NASA & Uber Air share, by all appearances in this simulation, a tidy answer to a widespread urban issue: electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft.
Admit it, the US is entrenched in critical issues surrounding car culture. One critical need is to transition from gas and diesel to electricity. We see the willingness of some cities to use electric buses, but we need much more action here. We see huge gas guzzlers such as the Hummers humbled by the newest challenger, Tesla’s Cybertruck. We see the Tesla Model 3 consuming gas car markets, and, in general, we see an ongoing turn towards more affordability of electric cars.
Yet, traffic-clogged highways devour the hours in the day (regardless of the use of electric cars). Traffic causes premature death every moment of every day. It’s better to be airlifted out of that traffic jam via a better transit choice rather than in an airlift to a hospital.
Re-imaging aviation, and city transport, is becoming a hot trend. Mark Broadbent of eVTOL.com reports that Uber Air and researchers from NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley recently developed some new solutions for companies working on air-bound technologies. The product simulates large-scale eVTOL operations.
Looking through an Uber White Paper that discusses cost and affordability, there is no clear price projected. The paper notes that although helicopters are the closest proxy to the VTOL aircraft contemplated by many, they are prohibitively expensive and are energy-inefficient. “Simpler, quieter and more operationally efficient vehicle designs are proposed which leverage digital control rather than mechanical complexity.” They seek a mass market appeal through affordable vehicles and operations, claims the White Paper.
Nicolas Zart routinely keeps CleanTechnica up to date on many significant parts of electric air mobility evolution, and in this case notes: “Both Uber and NASA are sharing their respective rideshare data and airspace management computer modeling to assess the impacts of small aircraft in crowded environments.”
More recently, Mark Broadbent reports that the NASA Air Traffic Management Exploration (ATM-X) Urban Air Mobility (UAM) team and Uber Elevate ran a complete simulation of eVTOL flights over Dallas–Fort Worth, Texas. The engineering evaluation is called X2.
“This ‘end-to-end’ test involved a series of 40-minute simulations in which hundreds of eVTOL flights were simulated and different scenarios evaluated. NASA and Uber each submitted operations for a set of flights as part of the test, with Uber remotely connecting from its lab to the airspace management system developed by the NASA UAM team to make the simulation possible.”
The X2 test was an evolution of a prototype of technologies that began for that research on efficient low-altitude operations by drones in 2015. William N. Chan, project manager for the Air Traffic Management Exploration project in the Aviation Systems Division at NASA Ames, told eVTOL.com that NASA realized it could use its Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) experience to work with industry and the Federal Aviation Administration in the UAM market.
“Chan said: ‘We take our expertise and modify our technology to address the questions of how we get these vehicles into the airspace with the types of operations these businesses are trying to do.’
“Chan explained scheduling was a key part of the X2 test, with one scenario focused on coordinating the scheduling of different eVTOL flights prior to take-off and another focused on coordinating different elements of an emergency landing situation.”
NASA is starting with this partnership with Uber Air (aka Uber Elevate) and plans to collaborate with other partners over time. A system must be developed for the whole community. Chan said: “We’ve learned how to work with the system so we can then engage other partners. Airspace management is an important challenge to enable this market. We expect this to be a system that can be used by the entire community.”
In this trial, a NASA algorithm was supplied by the UTM project. It was an algorithm suitable for adaptation for the X2 project. Uber provided its own algorithm as well. The algorithms must interoperate. The essential objective was to ensure all parties could communicate, without confusion or error.
Uber Elevate expects testing in cities as early as 2020. As reported recently, NASA has issued the Urban Air Mobility Grand Challenge (GC), inviting companies to participate in demonstrations to set the foundations for deploying UAM vehicles. NASA will further adapt X2 for use in the Grand Challenge, saying the Uber collaboration reduces risk on GC flight test activities and “expedites the future integration of GC partners into this system.”
Featured image courtesy NASA