Uber Helping Build Towards Future of On-Demand Air Transportation

By Ramsey A. Ammar

Last October, Uber announced its intention to enter the aviation industry when it published its 98-page white paper, titled “Fast-Forwarding to a Future of On-Demand Urban Air Transportation.” The white paper explores the development of what is referred to as a vertical take-off and landing (or “VTOL”) aircraft. According to Uber, VTOLs will enter the market being operated by pilots, with autonomy being implemented over time, as users and regulators become more comfortable with the technology and see statistical proof that autonomy provides greater levels of safety than human pilots. 

In the long term, Uber believes that VTOLs will be an affordable form of daily transportation for the masses, and even less expensive than owning a car. However, it appears that Uber has no intention (for now) of becoming an automaker. Uber wrote, “Rather than manufacture VTOL hardware ourselves, we instead look to collaborate with vehicle developers, regulators, city and national governments, and other community stakeholders, while bring to the table a very fertile market of excited consumers and a clear vehicle operations use case.”

This week, Uber announced that that it will be hiring Mark Moore, an advanced aircraft engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center, to lead Uber’s VTOL effort. Mr. Moore served as NASA’s chief technologist for on-demand mobility and focused on design studies of advanced aircraft concepts and published his own white paper, outlining the feasibility of electric-propulsion VTOL. In fact, his research reportedly inspired Google co-founder, Larry Page, to finance two flying car start-ups – Zee Aero and Kitty Hawk. This is an important hire both for Uber and the entire aviation industry as it represents one step closer towards autonomous human transport and on-demand air transportation.