Uber and the United States National Aeronautical and Space Administration are jointly developing flying taxi solutions, with the ride-hailing company recently winning a related services contract from NASA, Reuters reported earlier this week. While speaking at a Wednesday conference in Lisbon, Portugal, Uber Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden was cited as saying that the San Francisco, California-based firm is hoping to start a pilot program in 2020, with that particular test being planned to take place in Los Angeles. The company is presently focused on developing software for a four-passenger aircraft capable of flying 200mph (322kmph) which will be tested in Los Angeles after an initial pilot run in Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
Uber is already working with federal regulators in the country to obtain all of the necessary licenses it needs to start testing low-altitude aircraft and possibly use it to provide commercial services, as suggested by Mr. Holden. Such an approach stands in stark contrast to Uber’s previously employed business strategy which propelled the company to the title of the world’s most valuable startup on the back of constant clashes with regulators and repeated testing of legal boundaries. Whereas such approach is said to have sometimes entailed Uber launching its ride-hailing service in cities without permission, then using robust software to avoid officers while only obtaining the necessary permits at a later date, the company now opted for an entirely different strategy that shouldn’t place any additional strain on its relations with lawmakers. The project itself is understood to be headed by Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, the same one developing self-driving vehicles that are meant to be the backbone of the tech giant’s future business.
Uber is presently in the middle of a cultural transition started by its new Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi who’s been trying to repair the company’s infamous reputation earned while it was still headed by co-founder Travis Kalanick. Mr. Khosrowshahi has essentially been on an apology tour since taking over the ride-hailing firm in August, having already apologized to London officials for Uber’s transgressions that prompted them to deny its operating license renewal request, in addition to trying to repair the startup’s relations with various stateside actors.