Despite all of the controversy surrounding Uber -- from executive changes to policy debates to being kicked out of one of the largest cities in the world -- it somehow lands on its feet. And it landed big time. The company's head of product Jeff Holden announced that Uber signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to create an air traffic control system specifically for its flying taxi project.
"UberAir will be performing far more flights on a daily basis than it has ever been done before. Doing this safely and efficiently is going to require a foundational change in airspace management technologies," Jeff Holden, chief product officer at Uber, said in a statement on Wednesday.
"Combining Uber's software engineering expertise with NASA's decades of airspace experience to tackle this is a crucial step forward for Uber Elevate."
Want to experience what it will be like to push a button and get a flight with uberAIR? Keep watching. pic.twitter.com/rRnj68Vs9j— Uber (@Uber) November 8, 2017
The on-demand service has been in the works for years. However, like other companies looking to make autonomous flying taxis a reality, Uber ran into considerable amounts of red tape.
Uber's partnership with NASA to develop "unmanned traffic management" would do more than just affect flying taxis, as CNBC pointed out. All unmanned aerial systems (UAS) like low-flying drones would also be affected by NASA's decisions.
Uber hopes to have the project up and running by 2020 and wants to place it in several cities including the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas and Dubai. The company even has plans to partner with Bell Helicopter -- one of the largest manufacturers of vertical takeoff and landing vehicles.
"We're very excited to be collaborating with them," Mitch Snyder, CEO of Bell Helicopter, told The Verge in April. Snyder also noted that Uber's notorious reputation for 'bucking the system' shouldn't affect the project either.
"I can't comment on their headlines," Snyder said. "What I can comment on is Bell and our integrity. We're going to provide safe vehicles going forward. We're going to work with Uber. We're going to collaborate with them. It's an exciting opportunity."
However, in the most recent announcement, Uber also hinted that Los Angeles would be a third city involved in the project -- particularly during the trial phase. If all goes well, Uber plans on utilizing the service by the 2028 Olympics held in Los Angeles.
Uber's Recent Ups and Downs
This announcement comes in the wake of increasing frustrations with and controversy surrounding Uber. In late September of this year, Uber London lost its license to operate on the grounds of "public safety and security implications." This ruling was despite the 3.5 million passengers and over 40,000 drivers that used the app as alternatives to London's signature black cabs. The decision remains divisive.
"By wanting to ban our app from the capital, Transport for London and the mayor have caved in to a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice," said Uber's general manager of the London area Tom Elvidge in an interview with BBC. "If this decision stands, it will put more than 40,000 licensed drivers out of work and deprive Londoners of a convenient and affordable form of transport. To defend the livelihoods of all those drivers, and the consumer choice of millions of Londoners who use our app, we intend to immediately challenge this in the courts."
Given that two other government entities are negotiating with Uber's air ride service, could this mean that the ground services also get a second chance?