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Uber Partners With NASA in Vision for Managing Flying Cars

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Jeff Holden, Uber's chief product officer.
Jeff Holden, Uber's chief product officer.

Uber Technologies Inc. advanced its vision of a network of flying cars by signing an agreement with NASA on how to safely manage the futuristic systems.

The ride-sharing startup has said it plans to roll out an on-demand vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) network in Dallas and Dubai by 2020, and Wednesday added Los Angeles to the list. But many regulatory hurdles will need to be cleared before that can happen, including approval by the Federal Aviation Administration, which will have to figure out how flying cars can get along with airplanes, helicopters and drones in the sky.

On Tuesday, Uber took a step toward resolving that by signing an agreement with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to develop new traffic concepts that will enable safe and efficient operations of robotic flight systems, the company said.

Uber said it's also working with aircraft, infrastructure and real estate partners to operate fixed routes between city hubs called "Skyports." The San Francisco-based company's vision for the network, dubbed "uberAir," would let customers push a button and get high-speed flight in and around cities, the company said at a web summit in Lisbon.

"This collaboration makes a ton of sense in order to bring this to market as fast as possible," Uber chief product officer Jeff Holden said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. With uberAir, there will be an "unprecedented" number of flying aircrafts in cities, he said, and NASA's expertise lies in unmanned aerial systems traffic management that can help come up with answers to controlling air traffic.

Uber's flying car initiative, dubbed "Uber Elevate," comes at a time when Uber has faced multiple controversies including dozens of civil suits, the ousting of founder Travis Kalanick as chief executive officer and criminal probes from the U.S. Justice Department.

New CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has said that he wants to focus on the core business, which wouldn't seem to include managing flying cars. But Uber also faces competition on its flying cars ambitions, with those including Alphabet Inc. CEO Larry Page, who has funded at least 2 projects.

Instead of tackling the building of actual aircraft, Uber will develop the technology that manages flying vehicles and navigates air traffic. The company has said it will double its staff to 24 over the next year and already is in talks with the FAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency about its plans.

--Bloomberg News

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