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Uber Hires a Nasa Veteran Who Thinks We'll Start Seeing Flying Cars In Next Three Years (bloomberg.com) 123

Uber is getting serious about its intentions of building a flying car. Uber's plan involves airborne taxis that will travel 50 to 100 miles between "vertiports" that connect passengers between their homes and offices, according to a report on Bloomberg. Now it is hiring the right leader for this project. From the report: In 2010, an advanced aircraft engineer at NASA's Langley Research Center named Mark Moore published a white paper outlining the feasibility of electric aircrafts that could take off and land like helicopters but were smaller and quieter. The vehicles would be capable of providing a speedy alternative to the dreary morning commute. Moore's research into so-called VTOL -- short for vertical takeoff and landing, or more colloquially, flying cars -- inspired at least one billionaire technologist. After reading the white paper, Google co-founder Larry Page secretly started and financed two Silicon Valley startups, Zee Aero and Kitty Hawk, to develop the technology. Now Moore is leaving the confines of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, where he has spent the last 30 years, to join one of Google's rivals: Uber Technologies Inc. Moore is taking on a new role as director of engineering for aviation at the ride-hailing company, working on a flying car initiative known as Uber Elevate. "I can't think of another company in a stronger position to be the leader for this new ecosystem and make the urban electric VTOL market real," he says.
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Uber Hires a Nasa Veteran Who Thinks We'll Start Seeing Flying Cars In Next Three Years

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    so that's not so bold.

    • by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @04:42PM (#53814211)
      Its not a flying car if it doesn't drive on the streets. Otherwise we'd be calling helicopters flying cars.. So no, VTOL does not mean flying car.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        yea and there still classed as light aircraft and fall under the same regulations

        • They also still cost like light aircraft. I think when people think of "flying cars" a component of the equation is that George and Jane Jetson can afford one. Yes, VTOL electric is possible today, but is anyone with $300K to spend on an extremely limited use case vehicle actually interested?

          Making these things useful will require getting infrastructure added to cities and suburbs - same problem that made Segway an overpriced toy instead of the transportation revolution of the 2000s.

          • by lgw ( 121541 )

            But that's fine if the limited use case is "Uber". Lots of customers can get the benefit from few vehicles. $3M would probably still be impractical, but $300k would be fine, I think.

            The biggest "infrastructure change" would be more helipads on top of office buildings. That already happens here and there in big cities, and it's not all that expensive (as commercial building construction goes). The ability to fly between work and the airport, or between office buildings in the city, would get a lot of dem

            • The fundamental problem with flying cars is human drivers. The risk of a bad driver putting his car into your lawn is acceptable, the risk of a bad driver putting his car into your upstairs kids bedroom is not.
      • by fluffernutter ( 1411889 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @04:52PM (#53814287)
        I don't agree that a flying car has to also drive on the ground. I think the general idea of a flying car is something that is affordable by more families and as easy to use as a car. A helicopter is omitted from that because it is expensive, requires the knowledge of an airline pilot, and can obviously not be driven by the average person. I think more like the cars in the Jetsons.
        • by WarJolt ( 990309 )

          Flying cars must drive because often it's not safe to land where you want to go. You have to drive the rest of the way.

          • by AvitarX ( 172628 )

            I disagree, a proper flying car would be safe to land where you needed to go (IMO).

            It needs to be VTOL, and as easy to fly as a car is to drive.

            It should be able to safely land in a parking spot as easy as a car is to pull in (or barring tat, damned close).

            • I agree - if it is truly stable VTOL capable, it can hover into position just about anywhere.

              Now, what's its hover time capability? If it's only 15 minutes, and you spend 12 of those minutes in transit, would be a bitch to run out of battery before you find a parking space.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            With 'rest of the way' I assume going into a parking garage or some other short distance travel.
            You don't need what you typically expect of a car for that. You can ditch the gearbox and probably do well enough with three wheels and electric braking.
            Without the need of long distance travel we are essentially talking about a small electric engine hooked up to a front wheel.

      • So no, VTOL does not mean flying car.

        Strictly speaking, that's correct. But pragmatically, the next step after VTOL is STOL (short take off and landing) which means you need a runway of sorts to get the thing into -- and more important -- out of, the air. Space is kind of at a premium in urban areas. Also, the vehicle probably needs to be drivable for short distances to get into and out of parking garages, tree covered areas, etc. Probably doesn't have to drive at expressway speeds or handle like a spor

  • Great idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @04:49PM (#53814257)

    There are a lot of metro areas I've lived in that have great roads or transit to get from one area of a city to another - but make travel from different zones across the city a nightmare. If you could put in a number of aerial transit lines like this you could open up jobs and housing in much different areas of the city than is currently practical.

    Depending on where you placed these zones you could make who new areas job centers that could never have been before.

    • Re:Great idea (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 06, 2017 @05:23PM (#53814525)

      How about... no.

      People cannot handle flying cars. They either will be so drunk, they will be unable to figure out which way is down, be texting while their altimeter is spinning its way towards zero, or trying to aim their car at a government building, Joseph Stack style.

      Then there is maintenance and inspections. It costs a lot to keep a plane inspected.

    • Not really (Score:2, Informative)

      by s.petry ( 762400 )

      Safety issues for these flying cars, roads below them, and then consider the already overloaded ATC systems in the US. The idea may be interesting, but three years won't happen. Should it happen? Well, as the AC says above me, can we prevent drunk/bad drivers? Can we ensure that when one of these has an engine failure, it does not take out half a city block or a few dozen cars on the freeway making traffic much worse?

      I hope he realizes also, that Helicopters are very dangerous and require a huge clear s

      • Safety issues for these flying cars, roads below them, and then consider the already overloaded ATC systems in the US

        Why would they need to do anything except relay location to existing ATC? They can't talk as there are no pilots. They fly along a narrowly defined corridor at an altitude that would not conflict with existing airports and all local aircraft would know about.

        Can we ensure that when one of these has an engine failure, it does not take out half a city block

        There are literally a billion ways t

        • by wisnoskij ( 1206448 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @07:11PM (#53815289) Homepage

          Helicopters can fly anywhere because they cost millions of dollars, and only a tiny minority of companies and billionaires own them. If anyone suggested several hundred million should take to the sky on a daily basis, we would have to change the regulations concerning them.

          • Helicopters can fly anywhere because they cost millions of dollars

            I would respond to the rest of your post but I don't see why I need to bother when at the outset you have displayed that you are an idiot [aerotrader.com] and we can all assume the rest of your ideas are equally uninformed/absurd.

            The cheapest HC there are on the order of $20k but I'll even be reasonable and just take the $190k model [aerotrader.com] as an example of something that is vastly far from "millions of dollars", and is way more advanced than an air taxi drone would

        • by s.petry ( 762400 )

          Why would they need to do anything except relay location to existing ATC? They can't talk as there are no pilots. They fly along a narrowly defined corridor at an altitude that would not conflict with existing airports and all local aircraft would know about.

          You are either trolling or not so bright. Show me an airport that does not border a freeway or major road. Not only that, but cars would have to be tracked by ATC to prevent crashing with each other. The current ATC systems lack the capacity.

          I wonder how you don't hear about that all the time given helicopters exist? Oh that's right, they take off and land on designated zones you do not let people just flail arms around on.

          Okay, you must be trolling because nobody can be that foolish. Not only are helicopters extremely rare in the skies (1-2 News choppers and an occasional Military/Coast Guard craft (that is the west SF Bay from SJC to Golden Gate), but they all take off and land from

      • What we can do today is scale up quadcopters until they can lift a person, then shift to forward (lifting body) flight for the long haul, then vertically land.

        If this rolls out in the next 3 years it will be: a) nearly autonomous, b) owned and operated by a highly regulated fleet entity, c) priced in competition with commercial air travel, not taxis.

        The major stumbling block I see is: certified landing zones. ATC can handle this additional load if they are all following pre-programmed flight routes via aut

    • When I worked in South Houston, I considered moving the family home up north of Conroe and commuting via Mooney to Ellington field, then driving the last 10 minutes to work. Much better air quality up north of Conroe. Problem was, I just didn't like the job that much.

  • Start seeing? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    As in hallucinations? This guy is senile.

  • by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @04:51PM (#53814273)

    They can build something that can fly itself and take you from point A to point B.

    What they can't do and what will take years and years is the infrastructure. Remember the Jetsons? Ya...they were following "roads".

    The rules and regulations to manage millions of aircraft flying pilotlessly from point A to point B hasn't even been dreamed of yet, never mind rationally though out.

    • No need for millions of them. This is clearly aimed at the 1% being taxied from the penthouse of one shining building to another while the plebs sit in traffic-snarled, crumbling infrastructure. Think Metropolis, not Jetsons.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        No need for millions of them. This is clearly aimed at the 1% being taxied from the penthouse of one shining building to another while the plebs sit in traffic-snarled, crumbling infrastructure. Think Metropolis, not Jetsons.

        The geometry/spacial limits of the problem says more like 0.01% which is also consistent with the current (re)distribution of wealth.

        Capsella: 'teared"

    • by neoRUR ( 674398 )

      Well its most likely not going to be humans flying these things, at least at first. And if they did fly them they will be highly automated. Its not hard to setup a new infrastructure computer system that controls the sky level that these things will be flying in, different levels have different directions. When you fly over the treetops and buildings, your obstacle avoidance isn't that hard. There will be virtual roads seen by the heads up display in the flying car thing, so you will see roads boundaries an

    • They can build something that can fly itself and take you from point A to point B.

      Yes they can but can they do this at a cost which most people can afford and with a vehicle that is small enough that it does not take up much more space than a car and can take off and land vertically while not making more noise than a car? It also needs to be capable of travelling a few hundred kilometres too.

      By the time you add all those caveats it becomes a lot harder to build such a device. This is what is preventing the era of flying cars, not the lack of infrastructure. That will come once a prac

    • Considering how people drive on roads, a future with people flying vehicles would be a nightmare. Seriously, flying cars is something that might be okay to dream about but lacks practicality.
  • by Luthair ( 847766 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @04:53PM (#53814293)
    and told you it was chocolate milk, would you believe them? 10 out of 10 tech reporters answered a resounding yes.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's spelled NASA, not "Nasa."

  • Too much Delta-V (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MrLogic17 ( 233498 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @04:56PM (#53814315) Journal

    Rolling on a surface is pretty energy efficient - the power requirements for flying are much, much higher.
    Safety & FAA regulatory issues aside, this is always going to cost a LOT more than ground transportation- for fuel costs alone.

    This may end up being the rich man's tool when a limo is too slow, but a charter aircraft overkill.

    • >this is always going to cost a LOT more than ground transportation- for fuel costs alone

      I don't care. I'm not sure the commute angle is going to be practical in the near future for all the noise, congestion, and safe/available VTOL locations, but I'd sure as shit drop $100k right now if I could by a vehicle that could navigate normal roads/act as a "regular car" and also fly me between general aviation strips with a 250-300 mile range, even if it meant the equivalent of 10-12MPG on road fuel. That's hal

    • In Brazil [theguardian.com], it's already common for the rich to commute by helicopter. So yes, we have "flying cars" already. And I'm guessing it wouldn't be too hard nowadays to create a navigation system, so massive numbers of helicopters can fly without crashing into each other.

      But you know what the problem with helicopters is? They're LOUD. Just one helicopter can be heard easily from kilometers away. If you had tens of thousands of helicopters descending on a business district each morning, the noise would be beyond in

  • NOPE (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Most stupid ape on the roads can barely even drive on land, forget the flying in the air.
    It will need to be 100% autonomous. Considering we don,t have commercially available self driving cars yet, the flying ones ain't gonna come anytime soon. Not to mention, every "flying cars" we've seen so far are NOISY as hell. Now multiply that times a couple thousands flying above you. It will be deafening.

  • Jesus christ (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Not the flying car shit again.

  • I dont think this happening within 3 years. For example, take a look at how long Terrafugia has been at it. It has taken them *years* to get to the point where they've been allowed by the FAA to self-certify their "flying cars" for weight and stall speed limits. They're finally allowed to self-certify as a Light Sport Aircraft (LSA). So, now they expect to have a new prototype by 2018, and customer delivery by 2024! As for flying it, I'm guessing Uber is planning on self-flying craft (there's already a ton
    • I dont think this happening within 3 years

      That's a pretty safe bet. Hell it'd take three years to figure out how to license flying cars, insure them, and qualify the drivers. And that doesn't address the technology issues, or maintenance requirements or safety or security issues. Do you want flying cars zipping over your residence with the propeller making a funny sound and the equivalent of the Check Engine light on?. Safety? Like Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller has pointed out in a slightly different

      • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

        ... it'd take three years to figure out how to license flying cars, insure them, and qualify the drivers.

        Don't worry. Uber will make it happen in three years by ignoring all of those pesky regulations.

      • The only way I can see it happening is if it is a fully automated trip from point A to point B. Otherwise, the license requirements alone will make it nothing more than a novelty. Now, passenger airlines have tons of automation, and even single engine planes can have *some* automation, so it's not quite so farfetched to have automation combined with machine learning. BTW - you're 100% correct on the maintenance aspect. I'm a private pilot, and flying clubs (and training companies) will perform maintenance
  • What are Uber and Google rivals at?

    Insane valuations? Winner Uber...

    Data mining users? Winner Google...

    I don't really get it. Taxi company vs. Ad agency. Not rivals, almost certainly use each other's services.

  • Perfect fit (Score:5, Funny)

    by kencurry ( 471519 ) on Monday February 06, 2017 @05:07PM (#53814419)

    “I can’t think of another company in a stronger position to be the leader for this new ecosystem and make the urban electric VTOL market real,” he says.

    That's because of Uber's strong engineering track record, civic integration, and long history of co-operation with governmental agencies.

  • I'm still dreading the day that we see the first major drone terrorist attack... but affordable, practical flying cars for the masses (not just licensed pilots using airports) are out of the goddamn question for obvious goddamn reasons even if all of the other technical and safety and cost issues can be sorted out.

    Cheap, electric-only, driverless cars with next generation batteries and sporting drive trains that might be able to manage a million miles without an expensive breakdown is already a huge rev
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Seriously look at the technology showcased in the last many years. They could have had flying cars years ago. I personally think they are just waiting for technology/restrictions available to keep them under control.. Free flying across borders or into restricted airspace, terrorism is the real issue.

    Heck, look at the JetPack Aviation JB-9; If they can do that(and they do), flying "cars" are a piece of cake.

  • I mean, flying cars are just bullshit. There is nothing that makes them useful compared to the alternatives. They cannot be real cars and they cannot be real planes or helicopters. In addition, they cannot be flown by anybody not quite experienced. In all circumstances it is preferable to have car and "flying" done by separate, specialized machines. Why this extremely obviously extremely stupid ideas does not die out is beyond me.

    And "3 years"? That is just plain demented. You cannot get a new car design f

  • Richard Branson says "The fastest way to become a Millionaire is start as a billionaire and buy an airline".
    Anyone with or working towards a pilots license knows everything used in an airplane has to be FAA certified making even simple things cost 5-10x more.
    Just like Google Fiber closed up and shut down it's municipal fiber projects - real cost is much higher and revenues lower then some arrogant millennial MBA guessed - "ride share flight" idea will flame out quickly.
    Unlike squeezing wages out of dri
  • by Jack9 ( 11421 )

    We already have "flying cars". They are called helicopters and have the problems and dangers you would expect.

  • The FAA banned internet ride sharing in 2014. That decision was upheld by a court ruling in 2015. Uber tried to argue pilots in ride share didn't need a commercial license, and that argument was swatted twice. Commercial pilots are under a great deal more scrutiny than recreational, and rightly so.
    This to me sounds more like Uber is going to try to create their own sky terminals to compete with public transit. Unless Uber is going to pull some magic pill out of their arse, to use a pun - this isn't go
  • I hate gravity as much as the next guy, but we're stuck with it. Flying cars are impossible unless we have a mechanism of propulsion that doesn't involve shoving air downwards at a high velocity. Forget flying cars, let's focus on getting the following technologies within the next 20 years (in order of difficulty):

    1. Batteries with 3x the capacity of today's best. -- We are clueless how to do this.
    2. Fusion Energy -- should be possible, theoretically
    3. Developing in-vivo gene editing technology. -- diffic

    • by ffkom ( 3519199 )
      1. you are correct - indeed any battery with significant higher energy density than the current ones is hard to make safe for use 2. Fusion energy is not only possible, but alreay available in excessive quantities, readily available at no cost to us from the big ball-shaped fusion reactor in the center of our solar system 3. CRISPR-CAS9 is already there to do that 4. Hmmm... not so sure this is of such great potential 5. That's just one disease of so many, and not quite the one killing/crippling the most pe
      • Fusion energy is not only possible, but alreay available in excessive quantities, readily available at no cost to us from the big ball-shaped fusion reactor in the center of our solar system

        Not an object most most slashdotters are familiar with, of course.

  • I don't know about other countries, but where I live you could not expect any kind of private air-traffic allowed/tolerated that is as loud as all flying vehicles are today. Heck, even the relatively few airports around are under constant pressure to limit their noise emissions. And I think that is a good thing.
  • Here's the thing, quick and simple: Uber is not known for it's warm feelings toward its employees/contractors (depending on which side of the law you sit on). Driving a four-wheeled vehicle on the ground is simple enough that you can do it while seriously impaired without too much risk. Not so with something flying through the air. Pilots are not the same as the semi-employable edge of society that Uber is famous for employing/contracting (yes, I'm being intentionally inflammatory here).

    Anyone, but anyon

  • You will see Amzon delivering packages before you see electric flying taxis carrying fare paying passengers. FAA regulations for passenger carrying aircraft is very stringent.
  • How are they going to solve the problems of :

    1. High fuel consumption. Fun fact : the type of batteries you need for this kind of range burn themselves up very quickly as providing this level of current is very stressful on them. It costs more to replace the aircraft's battery pack than the equivalent amount of jetfuel would cost for the same energy delivered.

    2. High liability, thus very high aircraft manufacturing costs. You can't make a helicopter with any real cargo capacity for less than 10s of mil

  • The way I imagine a flying car is as a vehicle that can hover almost silently, effortlessly, for long periods of time. I do not think that we have the technology for that, much less in an affordable way. Those silly planes with folding wings and the ridiculous little helicopters with an individual strapped to them are not flying cars, but preposterous contraptions.
  • I can't think of another company in a stronger position to be the leader for this new ecosystem and make the urban electric VTOL market real

    If a strong position includes making profit from your current business, then there are many companies are in a stronger position than Uber.

  • Just what I need, someone with a CPL flying solo for Uber to gain hours for his ATPL.

    NO THANKS. I'd rather walk.

  • getting them past the crash testing in so short a period of time....
  • It truly is a Brave New World [wikipedia.org]
  • So I assume he's perfected an anti-gravity system that doesn't require power? Because as long as the failure mode of a flying vehicle is "drop out of the sky like a fucking rock onto people below"... might have a little problem there.

  • alternative headline is "Uber Hires a Nasa Veteran With Severe Dementia?" We've had this flying car scenario before, it's a repeating theme, much like virtual reality. Then again, I'm not the one speaking out against some Boom-Leelo-Dallas-Multipass action, so go right ahead.
  • "VTOL -- short for vertical takeoff and landing" long for "vertical takeoff and landing"

  • Is soon parted. There's a reason it hasn't been done yet. You can't do it. I'm a pilot and I've flown around the country. The weather can be a bitch. Especially thunderstorms. People in even automated vehicles are no match for mother nature. So it'll be very unreliable. It'll be very expensive. It'll never get approved.

    Use a car, it's way better.

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