NASA and Uber Test System for Future Urban Air Transport

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A new future for city transport is in the works at NASA – a future where both people and packages will take to the air. And, this week, the agency is working with partner company Uber to evaluate certain things we already know and others we still need to invent to manage this expected new air traffic. The goal, known as Urban Air Mobility, or UAM, is a safe and efficient air transportation system where everything from small package-delivery drones to passenger-carrying air taxis operate over populated areas – from small towns to the largest cities.

Researchers at NASA’s Ames and Langley Research Centers are developing technologies for UAM airspace management to make large-scale operations possible. At Ames, in California’s Silicon Valley, there’s a good foundation to build on. Researchers here have already studied, designed and tested tools and technologies that could be used in the near future to manage the airspace for small drones flying at low altitudes, even in complex urban landscapes. Called Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management, or UTM, it’s giving a leg up to the emerging world of passengers and goods traveling smoothly above our city streets.

Under a partnership taking urban air mobility forward, Uber is sharing its plans for implementing an urban aviation rideshare network. NASA, as America’s aeronautics research agency, is using the latest in airspace management computer modeling and simulation to assess the impacts of small aircraft in crowded environments. 

There are no pilots, aircraft or air traffic controllers at these particular tests, which are centered on computer simulations of air traffic around the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. Instead of human participants, NASA and Uber will evaluate highly automated algorithms for managing city-going air vehicles in the airspace.

With its partners, NASA will continue developing the UAM airspace system for NASA’s UAM Grand Challenge. This is a series of activities aimed at putting relevant technology in development to use. The knowledge gained from these efforts will help prepare the many parties supporting Urban Air Mobility for a full field demonstration of vehicles and operators’ systems in an urban environment.

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