NASA, Uber share data to explore safety, efficiency of future urban airspace

WASHINGTON. NASA officials in Washington have entered into the first agreement specifically focused on airspace management, also commonly referred to as air traffic management/air traffic control (ATM/ATC), modeling and simulation for urban air mobility (UAM) operations. They signed a space act agreement with Uber Technologies Inc. in San Francisco to explore UAM concepts and technologies to ensure a safe, efficient system for future air transportation in populated areas.

May 10th, 2018
NASA, Uber partner to explore safety, efficiency of future urban airspace
NASA, Uber partner to explore safety, efficiency of future urban airspace

WASHINGTON. NASA officials in Washington have entered into the first agreement specifically focused on airspace management, also commonly referred to as air traffic management/air traffic control (ATM/ATC), modeling and simulation for urban air mobility (UAM) operations. They signed a space act agreement with Uber Technologies Inc. in San Francisco to explore UAM concepts and technologies to ensure a safe, efficient system for future air transportation in populated areas.

“NASA is excited to be partnering with Uber and others in the community to identify the key challenges facing the UAM market, and explore necessary research, development and testing requirements to address those challenges,” says Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. “Urban air mobility could revolutionize the way people and cargo move in our cities and fundamentally change our lifestyle much like smart phones have.”

An artist’s conception of a future where different aircraft – vertical takeoff, traditional takeoff, crewed, uncrewed – safely perform a variety of daily missions in rural to urban environments. Credits: NASA/Advanced Concepts Laboratory

Under this agreement, Uber will share its plans for implementing an urban aviation rideshare network. NASA will use the latest airspace management computer modeling and simulation technologies to assess the impacts of small aircraft – from delivery drones to passenger aircraft with vertical take-off and landing capability – in crowded environments.

NASA’s definition of “urban air mobility” is a safe and efficient system for vehicles, piloted or not, to move passengers and cargo within a city. Credit: NASA

At its research facility at the Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport, NASA will use the data supplied by Uber to simulate a small passenger-carrying aircraft as it flies through DFW airspace during peak scheduled air traffic. Analysis of these simulations will identify safety issues as these new aircraft take to the air in an already crowded air traffic control system.

"The new space act agreement broadening Uber's partnership with NASA is exciting, because it allows us to combine Uber's massive-scale engineering expertise with NASA's decades of subject matter experience across multiple domains that are key to enabling urban air mobility, starting with airspace systems," adds Jeff Holden, Uber’s chief product officer.

As small aircraft enter the marketplace, NASA officials want to ensure they do so safely, with acceptable levels of noise, and without burdening the current national air traffic control system. To this end, the agency is leveraging ongoing aeronautics research in areas including: Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) traffic management (commonly shortened to UTM) at low altitude; UAS integration in the National Airspace System; all-electric, general aviation class aircraft development; vertical take-off and landing aircraft; system-wide safety; and more.

These activities will generate the data necessary to support the creation of industry standards, Federal Aviation Administration rules and procedures, and other related regulations. NASA will make the research available to the broader UAM community.


An artist’s conception of an urban air mobility environment, where air vehicles with a variety of missions and with or without pilots, are able to interact safely and efficiently. Credits: NASA / Lillian Gipson

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