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.


Fall of top US scientists points to ethics gap in research

In this Dec. 6, 2016 file photo, Brian Wansink speaks during an interview in the produce section of a supermarket in Ithaca, N.Y. (AP)
Updated 24 September 2018
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Fall of top US scientists points to ethics gap in research

  • Links between a doctor leading a clinical trial and manufacturers of drugs or medical equipment used in the study can influence the methodology and ultimately the results

WASHINGTON: Three prominent US scientists have been pushed to resign over the past 10 days after damning revelations about their methods, a sign of greater vigilance and decreasing tolerance for misconduct within the research community.
The most spectacular fall concerned Jose Baselga, chief medical officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He authored hundreds of articles on cancer research.
Investigative journalism group ProPublica and The New York Times revealed on September 8 that Baselga failed to disclose in dozens of research articles that he had received millions of dollars from pharmaceutical and medical companies.
Such declarations are generally required by scientific journals.
Links between a doctor leading a clinical trial and manufacturers of drugs or medical equipment used in the study can influence the methodology and ultimately the results.
But journals don’t themselves verify the thoroughness of an author’s declarations.
Caught up in the scandal, Baselga resigned on September 13.

Next came the case of Brian Wansink, director of the Food and Brand Lab at the prestigious Cornell University.
He made his name thanks to studies that garnered plenty of media attention, including on pizza, and the appetites of children.
His troubles began last year when scientific sleuths discovered anomalies and surprisingly positive results in dozens of his articles.
In February, BuzzFeed published messages in which Wansink encouraged a researcher to extract from her data results more likely to go “viral.”
After a yearlong inquiry, Cornell announced on Thursday that Wansink committed “academic misconduct in his research and scholarship,” describing a litany of problems with his results and methods.
He is set to resign at the end of the academic year, but from now on will no longer teach there.
Wansink denied all fraud, but 13 of his articles have already been withdrawn by journals.
In the final case, Gilbert Welch, a professor of public health at Dartmouth College, resigned last week.
The university accused him of plagiarism in an article published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the most respected American medical journal.

“The good news is that we are finally starting to see a lot of these cases become public,” said Ivan Oransky co-founder of the site Retraction Watch, a project of the Center for Scientific Integrity that keeps tabs on retractions of research articles in thousands of journals.
Oransky told AFP that what has emerged so far is only the tip of the iceberg.
The problem, he said, is that scientists, and supporters of science, have often been unwilling to raise such controversies “because they’re afraid that talking about them will decrease trust in science and that it will aid and abet anti-science forces.”
But silence only encourages bad behavior, he argued. According to Oransky, more transparency will in fact only help the public to better comprehend the scientific process.
“At the end of the day, we need to think about science as a human enterprise, we need to remember that it’s done by humans,” he said. “Let’s remember that humans make mistakes, they cut corners, sometimes worse.”
Attention has long focused on financial conflicts of interest, particularly because of the influence of the pharmaceutical industry.
But the Wansink case illustrates that other forms of conflict, including reputational, are equally important. Academic careers are largely built on how much one publishes and in which journals.
As a result, researchers compete to produce positive, new and clear results — but work that produces negative results or validates previous findings should also be rewarded, argued Brian Nosek, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia who heads the pro-transparency Center for Open Science.
“Most of the work when we’re at the boundary of science is messy, has exceptions, has things that don’t quite fit,” he explained, while “the bad part of the incentives environment is that the reward system is all about the result.”
While moves toward more transparency have gathered momentum over the past decade, in particular among publishers of research articles, there is still a long way to go, said Nosek.
“Culture change is hard,” he argued, adding: “Universities and medical centers are the slowest actors.”