Uber hires NASA engineer to help develop flying vehicles

Emma Flickinger Feb 14, 2017

Uber has hired veteran NASA engineer Mark Moore as its Director of Engineering for Aviation to help realize its long-term program for developing flying car technology.

Moore's move to Uber follows 30 years of research at NASA, working with electric motors in vertical takeoff and landing vehicles (VTOLs), which are flying vehicles. He made the switch because he believes Uber's vision for accessible, affordable flying cars is achievable: “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 told Bloomberg.

Moore's 2010 research paper on electrically powered VTOL technology inspired startups and aviation companies to investigate the technology he described. Several tech companies are currently developing VTOL concepts both in the US and abroad, some funded by high-profile tech entrepreneurs like Google co-founder Larry Page.

Moore previously worked as a consultant for Uber when the company first released the white paper on its vision for VTOL vehicles, Uber Elevate.

Uber's ultimate goal is to eliminate practical barriers to VTOL use so that it can offer a VTOL service to allow quick commutes in metropolitan areas, even those with heavy traffic. As the white paper on Uber Elevate explains, "Just as skyscrapers allowed cities to use limited land more efficiently, urban air transportation will use three-dimensional airspace to alleviate transportation congestion on the ground."

Uber Elevate is not necessarily working towards building a prototype vehicle; instead, its aim is to identify and resolve the practical barriers to implementing a system of VTOLs in an urban environment. Some of these concerns include safety protocols for urban airspace, regulations for potential harmful emissions, noise pollution issues, and affordability for the consumer: concerns which Moore will presumably help address in his new position.

Though the technological and logistical concerns highlighted by Uber Elevate are significant, they are not insurmountable. After all, urban airspace is already used frequently by helicopters, and increasingly by drones, with little issue. And though a VTOL taxi service would be expensive at first, Uber estimates that once it has implemented an infrastructure of "vertiports" for takeoff and landing, a ride in a flying vehicles might cost no more than a trip in an Uber does today.

In fact, Moore predicts that flying vehicles controlled by humans will be in the testing phase within one to three years, and Uber projects that they will begin offering VTOL rides in some cities within the next five to ten years.