The race to develop the first commercially successful flying car is well underway: Ride-sharing company Uber has hired NASA veteran engineer Mark Moore to serve as director of engineering for the Uber Elevate project, according to Bloomberg.
The company turned heads last October when it released its white paper (PDF) analyzing the potential for vertical takeoff and landing (VTOLs) to minimize morning commutes. The paper proposed that a two-hour drive from San Francisco to San Jose, Calif., during rush hour could be condensed to 15 minutes. With Moore joining Uber, the ride-sharing network may no longer be shackled by the limits of gravity.
Uber Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden explained in a Medium post that a network of on-demand aviation "has the potential to radically improve urban mobility, giving people back time lost in their daily commutes." In thinking about how helicopters use skyscraper roofs as helipads, the company envisions several “vertiports” where a VTOL can be summoned through a smartphone app and programmed to fly wherever possible. VTOLs would be smaller, cheaper and quieter than helicopters.
While it may seem like The Jetsons come to life, Moore has been an advocate of pursuing VTOLs since he released a report on the topic (PDF) in 2010. By creating fully electric vehicles capable of carrying passengers 50 to 100 miles on a single charge, a ride-sharing network of flying cars may be able to truly flip a city's transportation infrastructure on its head.
Moore explained that his decision to leave NASA was not an easy one; however, the company seemed to deliver the best plan to help his vision to come to life. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick appears to be fully committed to making flying commuter transit service real and commercially viable.
The company is competing with France-based Airbus, which has been working on a VTOL project called Vanhana, and Google co-founder Larry Page, who funded two VTOL startups, Zee Aero and Kitty Hawk. The white paper lists 10 major barriers before the technology can become actualized, but rest assured — Uber is not waiting for another company to get out ahead of it.