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.


Hacked and scammed: investors navigate cryptocurrency ‘wild west’

Updated 18 October 2018
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Hacked and scammed: investors navigate cryptocurrency ‘wild west’

  • ‘We have studied this for about a year before investing, so we are aware of the risks’
  • ‘It’s impossible to track and return the funds. We live and die with this technology’

NEW YORK: When Peggy and Marco Lachmann-Anke learned in January that hackers cracked a 40-character password and cleaned out their cryptocurrency wallet, they did not go to the police or alert the tokens’ issuer, the Berlin-based technology group IOTA.
They bought more coins.
The Cyprus-based German couple, who describe themselves as financial educators, figured they had no chance of recovering the coins and it was not even clear who might take up their case. Yet they took the roughly $14,000 loss in stride — something that comes with the territory when one bets on a new, exciting technology in a yet unregulated market.
“We really believe in cryptocurrencies. We have studied this for about a year before investing, so we are aware of the risks,” Peggy Lachmann-Anke said. “There was nothing we could do.”
Far from unusual, the episode is emblematic for a market where few rules apply and where investors’ faith in the blockchain technology goes hand in hand with the belief that it also helps criminals cover their tracks so well that trying to catch them is a fool’s errand.
Patrick Wyman, FBI supervisory special agent at the financial crimes section of the agency’s anti-money laundering unit acknowledges cryptocurrencies pose some unique challenges.
“A decentralized currency system like bitcoin, or another form of virtual currency is not governed by any entity, suspicious reporting activity, and any anti-money laundering compliance,” Wyman told Reuters.
Various estimates show cryptocurrency crime is on the rise, keeping pace with the market’s rapid growth. That forces investigators to focus on high-profile cases, security professionals and officials say, effectively leaving small investors to their own devices.
“We do not pretend that every law enforcement agency is devoting resources to every single crime. That would not be possible,” said Jaroslav Jakubcek, an analyst at Europol, which serves as a center for the European Union’s law enforcement cooperation, expertise and intelligence.
Officials still encourage people to report cryptocurrency theft to local police like any other crime, saying failing to do so only emboldens criminals.
Yet because many victims simply do not see the point, cryptocurrency theft is far more common than any published estimates suggest, security professionals say.
According to financial research firm Autonomous NEXT and Crypto Aware, which works with investors affected by crypto scams, about 15 percent of cryptocurrencies have been stolen between 2012 and the first half of 2018, representing a cumulative $1.7 billion in value at the time of the theft and with a rising tendency. In the first half of this year alone, more than $800 million has already been stolen, according to the data. Yet Lex Sokolin, a partner and global director of fintech strategy at the firm, estimates that as much as 85 percent of crimes go unreported and says the published statistics only represent publicly reported heists.
Reuters interviews with half a dozen victims paint a similar picture. Out of that group only two reported their losses to the authorities and one soured on cryptocurrency investments.
Armin Fischer, a Vienna-based IT specialist said he lost about $5,300 in ether coins in a phishing scam in the summer of 2017 and immediately alerted the local police just to find out that the duty officer had no idea what he was talking about.
He said it took many months of knocking on doors to get his case ultimately taken up by Vienna prosecutors’ office, but it is still pending. Fisher says by now he has had enough.
“I have seen firsthand how big the security leaks are.”
Others are more philosophical.
Dave Appleton, a blockchain developer for HelloGold, a gold trading app company in Kuala Lumpur, said he lost about $3,000 of ether coins when scammed by a fake site touting a startup’s token pre-sale. He said he just moved on, glad he did not lose more.
“The point is there’s no one to report the crime to,” Appleton said. “I am not sure what country or jurisdiction it would come under.”
According ICO tracker Coinschedule a record $21.3 billion flowed into new tokens so far this year as investors keep snapping up “initial coin offerings,” undeterred by high-profile heists, bitcoin’s and other currencies’ slide from late 2017 peaks, and government warnings of widespread fraud and theft.
David Jevans, chief executive of cybersecurity firm CipherTrace in Menlo Park, California, estimates that even when exchanges or trading platforms get hacked, perhaps only a fifth of stolen coins is recovered because of the ease with which digital tokens can move across several borders.
“You have to get law enforcement in five countries interested enough, have time enough, and have evidence enough to open a case,” he said. “By the time they agree, get the information, do all the paperwork, the money has been moved.”
Security experts say in most cases millions need to be at stake to justify such an effort.
US entrepreneur and long-time cryptocurrency investor Michael Terpin, who says he got robbed twice, learned firsthand that not all hacks are created equal.
He said first time when criminals accessed his cellphone with stolen SIM card credentials, emptied a wallet connected to it, and tricked his friends into sending money by impersonating him on Skype, he contacted a friend at the FBI.
But once she learned that only $60,000 got stolen, she advised him to file a report via the FBI’s Internet crime center website. Terpin said he did, but never heard back.
Then, when last January he lost almost $24 million in tokens from his mobile account, he went straight after the service provider AT&T, filing a $224 million lawsuit accusing it of negligence that allowed “digital identity theft,” a claim AT&T denies.
Undeterred, Terpin says he remains committed to blockchain comparing it to the early days of Amazon.com Inc. when the online retailer faced much skepticism and even derision.
“That’s similar to today’s narrative that all ICOs (initial coin offerings) are scams and nothing will ever be developed of value because they’re not already fully deployed,” he said.
Steadfast commitment to the new technology and belief that it gives sophisticated criminals the upper hand means that even some multimillion heists go unreported.
For example, when hackers stole about $9 million worth of ether tokens from a Zug, Switzerland-based company Swarm City in July 2017, the peer-to-peer digital platform did not report the theft to the police, business leader Bernd Lapp said.
“It’s impossible to track and return the funds. We live and die with this technology.”