Uber's Newest Flying Car Expert Comes From NASA

Uber introduced its Uber Elevate concept in October 2016. Uber Uber introduced its Uber Elevate concept in October 2016. Uber
Uber introduced its Uber Elevate concept in October 2016. Uber

Jeff Holden, the chief product officer of rideshare giant Uber, created a sensation last year when he revealed that the company is looking to develop flying taxis with the ability to hover, land and take off from streets with the help of helicopter-like rotors.

At the time, that might have sounded more like a science-fiction fantasy. But now, Uber has taken a major step toward making its vision for flying vehicles a practical reality. Bloomberg Technology reports that the company has hired NASA aviation engineer Mark Moore, who as a researcher worked to develop electric-powered vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) aircraft that sound a lot like what Uber has in mind with its Uber Elevate project.

In 2010, Moore wrote a paper describing an electric-powered, quiet, low-emission VTOL called the Puffin Electric Tailsitter. He envisioned the aircraft using six electric motors distributed across the airframe to drive props that would enable it to hover and navigate nimbly — "an On-Demand aircraft designed to provide quiet, efficient, and safe close proximity operations to businesses and neighborhoods," he wrote.

Moore told Bloomberg that he thinks Uber, with its ridership of 55 million, can demonstrate that there's a profitable market for flying vehicles. And in a 2015 talk at NASA, Moore said, "Distributed electric propulsion lets us do things that we've wanted to do for 50 years."

Uber's plan calls for people to ride in conventional cars to VTOL "vertiports" that would provide both safe takeoff and landing spots, and a place for the electric flying cars to charge.

What else does the flying-car future hold? This Fw:Thinking video looks into a Vahana, a new project from airplane behemoth Airbus, and some of the physics and transportation issues flying autonomous cars would face: