Uber has stepped up its efforts to transport the commuters of tomorrow in flying cars by hiring a Nasa veteran to lead research into the technology.
The company wants to ease congestion on roads by operating fleets of airborne taxis, which would let commuters hop across cities.
It has now hired Mark Moore, a former engineer at the US space agency, as its director of engineering for aviation.
He is expected to work on “VTOL” (vertical take-off and landing) technology, which is seen as the future of urban aerial transport. While the vehicles would take off vertically, they could use fixed-wing designs to save energy when flying.
Uber, whose app connects self-employed drivers with passengers, has shaken up the taxi industry but also has an eye on the future. It is trialling self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh and Phoenix, after a recent test in San Francisco was deemed illegal, but has also espoused the benefits of flying vehicles.
“It could change cities and how we work and live,” Jeff Holden, Uber’s head of product, said last year. “We want to offer our customers as many options as possible to move around.”
Uber has envisaged the vehicles, which could carry several passengers, dropping and picking people up at helipad-style stations.
It says that a 57 mile journey from San Jose to San Francisco, which takes one hour and 40 minutes in a regular Uber car and costs $111 (£90), could take 15 minutes via the aircraft. It has suggested the airborne journey would initially cost $129 but over time that could fall to $20.
When at Nasa, Mr Moore created designs for an electric “puffin” aircraft that would be able to carry one passenger.
Flying cars are likely to be years away, requiring the large-scale development of the technology, changes to regulations and more pilots being trained – unless autonomous flying software can be developed.
However, this has not stopped several companies from investigating their potential. Airbus has said it will have a prototype ready by the end of the year, while E-hang, a Chinese start-up, says it has won approval for testing in Nevada.