Uber in deal with NASA to build flying taxi air control software

This file photo shows the logo of the ride sharing service Uber seen in front of its headquarters in San Francisco, California on August 26, 2016. (File photo by AFP)
Updated 09 November 2017
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Uber in deal with NASA to build flying taxi air control software

LISBON: Uber is taking part in a joint industry and government push with NASA to develop software which the company aims to use to manage “flying taxi” routes that could work like ride-hailing services it has popularised on the ground.
Uber said on Wednesday it was the first formal services contract by the US National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) covering low-altitude airspace rather than outer space. NASA has used such contracts to develop rockets since the late 1950s.
Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden also said Uber would begin testing proposed four-passenger, 200-miles-per-hour (322-km-per-hour) flying taxi services across Los Angeles in 2020, its second planned test market after Dallas/Fort Worth.
Uber has faced regulatory and legal battles around the world since it launched taxi-hailing services earlier this decade, including in London where it is appealing against a decision to strip it of its license due to safety concerns.
Holden described Uber’s latest air taxi plans at Web Summit, an Internet conference in Lisbon, where he emphasised it was working to win approval from aviation regulators well ahead of introducing such services.
 
“There is a reality that Uber has grown up a lot as a company,” Holden said in an interview ahead of his speech. “We are now a major company on the world stage and you can’t do things the same way where you are a large-scale, global company that you can do when you are a small, scrappy startup.”
NASA said in a statement it had signed a generic agreement in January with Uber that enables the company to join a variety of industry partners working with NASA to develop a range of driverless air traffic management systems.
That deal calls for Uber to be involved during phase 4 of this work, which is scheduled to begin in March 2019, NASA said.
Phase 1, completed in 2015, involved field tests and ongoing testing at a US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) site for drones used in agriculture, fire-fighting and pipeline monitoring, NASA has said. Phase 2 in 2016 considered long distance uses in sparsely populated regions, while Phase 3 in 2018 will test services over moderately populated areas, leading to Phase 4 testing in high-density urban areas in 2019.
Uber is looking to speed development of a new industry of electric, on-demand, urban air taxis, Holden said, which customers could order up via smartphone in ways that parallel the ground-based taxi alternatives it has popularised while expanding into more than 600 cites since 2011.
Uber plans to introduce paid, intra-city flying taxi services from 2023 and is working with aviation regulators in the United States and Europe to win approvals toward that end, Holden told Reuters.
“We are very much embracing the regulatory bodies and starting very early in discussions about this and getting everyone aligned with the vision,” he said of Uber’s plans to introduce what he called “ride-sharing in the sky.”
MAKING TAXIS FLY
Earlier this year, Uber hired NASA veterans Mark Moore and Tom Prevot to run, respectively, its aircraft vehicle design team and its air traffic management software program.
During a 32-year career at NASA, Moore pioneered its electric jet propulsion project which Uber considers to be the core technology for making urban air transportation possible.
The agreement with NASA aims to solve issues involved in operating hundreds or even thousands of driverless aircraft over urban areas and allow them to co-exist with existing air traffic control systems as well as in and around busy airports.
Uber envisions a fleet of electric jet-powered vehicles — part helicopter, part drone and part fixed-wing aircraft — running multiple small rotors capable of both vertical take off and landing and rapid horizontal flight.
Uber is building software to manage networks in the sky of flying taxis and working with manufacturers including Aurora Flight Sciences, which was acquired by Boeing last month.
It has also signed up Embraer, Mooney, Bell Helicopter, and Pipistrel Aircraft to develop new vertical takeoff and landing aircraft for the service.


Warning issued over attacks on Internet infrastructure

ICANN headquarters in Los Angeles. (Supplied)
Updated 23 February 2019
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Warning issued over attacks on Internet infrastructure

  • The list of targets included website registrars and Internet service providers, particularly in the Middle East

SAN FRANCISCO: Key parts of the Internet infrastructure face large-scale attacks that threaten the global system of web traffic, the Internet’s address keeper warned Friday.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) declared after an emergency meeting “an ongoing and significant risk” to key parts of the infrastructure that affects the domains on which websites reside.
“They are going after the Internet infrastructure itself,” ICANN chief technology officer David Conrad told AFP.
“There have been targeted attacks in the past, but nothing like this.”
The attacks date back as far as 2017 but have sparked growing concerns from security researchers in recent weeks, which prompted the special meeting of ICANN.
The malicious activity targets the Domain Name System or DNS which routes traffic to intended online destinations.
ICANN specialists and others say these attacks have a potential to snoop on data along the way, sneakily send the traffic elsewhere or enable the attackers to impersonate or “spoof” critical websites.
“There isn’t a single tool to address this,” Conrad said, as ICANN called for an overall hardening of web defenses.
US authorities issued a similar warning last month about the DNS attacks.
“This is roughly equivalent to someone lying to the post office about your address, checking your mail, and then hand delivering it to your mailbox,” the US Department of Homeland Security said in a recent cybersecurity alert.
“Lots of harmful things could be done to you (or the senders) depending on the content of that mail.”

DNSpionage attacks might date back to at least 2017, according to FireEye senior manager of cyber espionage analysis Ben Read.
The list of targets included website registrars and Internet service providers, particularly in the Middle East.
“We’ve seen primarily targeting of email names and passwords,” Read said of what is being dubbed “DNSpionage.”
“There is evidence that it is coming out of Iran and being done in support of Iran.”
ICANN held an emergency meeting and is putting out word to website and online traffic handlers to ramp up security or leave users vulnerable to being tricked into trusting the wrong online venues.
DNSpionage hackers appeared intent on stealing account credentials, such as email passwords, in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, according to Crowdstrike cybersecurity firm vice president of intelligence Adam Meyers.
Similar attacks took place in Europe and other parts of the Middle East, with targets including governments, intelligence services, police, airlines, and the oil industry, cybersecurity specialists said.
“You definitely need knowledge of how the Internet works you and have to handle a lot of traffic being directed to you,” Meyers said of the DNSpionage hackers.
“With that access, they could temporarily break portions of how the Internet works. They chose to intercept and spy on folks.”