Products, Regulatory

How Next-Gen Vehicles Like Uber’s Air Taxis Can be Successful

By Wayne Osse | June 8, 2018
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Uber's air taxi concept. Graphic courtesy of Uber

While flying taxis sound like something from a bad sci-fi movie, Uber sees them as an opportunity to drive urban innovation and improve transportation efficiency. The ride-sharing company recently announced solidified partnerships with the likes of NASA and shared concrete plans to get this new mode of transportation “off the ground” by 2023.

There are a number of obstacles standing in uberAIR’s way, and if anything was learned from the company’s self-driving car plans, it's that there’s room for error. Beyond the challenges with developing the complex technologies that will make these vehicles run, it is even more important to prioritize safety by creating a strategy that ensures they don’t interfere with existing traffic structures on the ground and in the air. If this isn’t a top priority, Uber’s flying taxis could create some of the same problems for air traffic control that we’ve seen with recent drone implementations, putting passenger safety at risk.


So, how can Uber’s new venture into the air transport space be successful?

Creating Strong Connections with Critical Data Streams for In-Air Safety

Success for uberAIR will depend on connecting their next-generation vehicles with internal and external data systems to ensure they are equipped with the insight needed to run safely. This starts with integrating the systems within the vehicle itself to keep it running smoothly. By creating a data river between all the different internal sensors and structures, the flying taxis and pilots operating them will be able to keep the vehicle itself running properly and identify issues before they cause disasters.

Take, for example, a sensor that actively monitors for wear-and-tear on the body of the vehicle. If this sensor isn’t effectively communicating anomalies with the pilot’s control center, the end-result could be fatal. Similarly, if the supporting networks go down for a short period of time and the alert is never delivered, the vehicle could suffer the same result. Therefore, it’s critical that Uber develops a strong data-movement strategy that efficiently and securely gets important internal data where it needs to go.

Taking this a step further, enhancing sensors with predictive analytics will ensure Uber’s flying taxis are anticipating potential issues and getting in front of them for improved maintenance. With constant monitoring, steady alerts and proactive action, uberAIR will also be able to quickly earn consumer trust in the new service. Not only will a stronger internal data movement strategy keep passengers safe, it will also ensure the flying vehicles are secure while in flight, mitigating issues with air traffic surrounding it.

In addition to understanding what’s going on within the vehicles themselves, it is also important that Uber connects its network to external data resources to gain a holistic understanding of surroundings in real time. Specifically, it will be important to seamlessly integrate each vehicle with third-party aeronautical and air traffic control data, as well as weather and atmospheric information to ensure routes are optimized and don’t interfere with traffic above and beneath them.

UberAIR should start by integrating its flying taxi network with ATM system-wide information sharing networks and even sensors on vehicles surrounding them. For example, Uber’s pilots should be aware of commercial planes that are scheduled to take off within the same timeframe in a particular area to ensure their flights aren’t interfering and vice versa. To smooth this process and seamlessly join the wider air transport industry, uberAIR should become a full participant in system-wide information management (SWIM), which is quickly becoming the standards-based foundation of next-generation air traffic control systems globally.

Ultimately, by integrating its complex internal systems with real-time insights on the surroundings (both in the air and on the ground), uberAIR can ensure all flights are synchronized for success and safety.

Fitting Flying Taxis Within “Smart Cities”

This all sounds great, but will we ever actually be able to open up the Uber app and call a flying taxi for our next trip? Believe it or not, we’re not as far off as you’d think.

Connected, intelligent technologies are advancing at a very fast rate, and organizations are putting massive investments behind creating more efficient cities — with transportation playing a key role. In fact, urban planners have started to implement IoT-driven traffic lights, connected public transportation and even consumer apps for parking, allowing governments at the local, state and federal level to understand how advanced technology can improve traffic and transportation.

This opens the door for Uber to experiment and showcase the possibilities of its new service. There is even the potential for uberAIR to partner with government agencies to play a part in new projects and better sync up with current transportation initiatives for the optimization of its own vehicles.

It’s realistic to expect flying cars will enter our lives in the next five years. But getting Uber’s dreams (and vehicles) off the ground will depend on creating a strong integrated system that connects and analyzes all available data.

Wayne Osse is the chief architect for global aviation and transport at Solace, a message-oriented middleware company with a customer base that includes national aviation authorities and pioneers in the avionics industry.

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