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.


Android software puts Google at heart of mobile life

Updated 18 July 2018
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Android software puts Google at heart of mobile life

  • Google, the revenue-pumping heart of corporate parent Alphabet, makes Android available free to device makers
  • Android is ‘open source,’ meaning that device makers can use it free of charge and customize it as they wish

SAN FRANCISCO: The Google Android operating system, the target of a long-running EU antitrust investigation, powers the vast majority of the world’s smartphones and firmly rules the mobile world.
Android software acts as the brains for mobile devices, coordinating tasks from phone calls and map directions to games, Twitter posts, or online searches.
Google, the revenue-pumping heart of corporate parent Alphabet, makes Android available free to device makers, earning money from ads, content or subscriptions at online services crafted to work smoothly with the operating system.
According to industry-tracker Gartner, Android dominated the smartphone market with a share of 85.9 percent last year, to around 14 percent for Apple’s iOS.
Some 1.3 billion Android smartphones were sold last year, compared with approximately 215 million running on iOS and 1.5 million with other operating systems, according to the research firm.
The first version of Android was released a decade ago.
In a playful way, Google has named Android iterations after tasty treats including Kit Kat, Marshmallow and Nougat. A fresh version, Android P, is in beta testing mode and is expected to be given a yummier moniker before it is officially released.
Android is “open source,” meaning that device makers can use it free of charge and customize it as they wish.
This led to complaints that the world of Android was “forked,” with compatibility of applications inconsistent and device makers slow or reluctant to push updated versions or security patches to users.
Apple, in contrast, tightly controls its software and hardware, so an application that works on one device works on all. Apple also prides itself on pushing the most up-to-date version of iOS out to mobile devices.
While Android operating system software is free, EU authorities claim Google uses its leverage to get mobile device makers to install its other mobile apps like YouTube, Chrome, Gmail, Maps and Translate to cement its dominant position.
Android is used by a host of mobile device makers, including South Korea-based Samsung, which is the world’s top smartphone maker in terms of volume.
Before Google shook up the market with Android, gadget makers paid to license operating systems or relied on their own.
Microsoft took that approach with the operating system for Windows Phone, before surrendering the market in the face of runaway success by Android and Apple.
Google makes its own premium Pixel smartphones, which showcase the capabilities of Android and are kept up to date with software improvements. Pixel smartphones account for only a small sliver of the market.
According to EU investigators, Google has required device makers to install its search engine and the Google Chrome browser on phones, and to set Google Search as the default, as a condition for licensing some Google apps.
The California tech giant disputes this, saying mobile device manufacturers, if they wish, can install applications that compete with those offered by Google.
For example, Samsung smartphones can come new with Chrome and another web browsing program built-in, or offer both Google Pay and Samsung Pay digital wallets for use.
Android users are free to patronize online venues other than the Google Play Store for apps, games, music or other digital content.
Google does promote its own services as being optimized for Android, and backed by “cloud” computing capabilities for backing up data and being able to shift seamlessly between devices such as smartphones and laptop computers.
Daniel Castro of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington think tank, said Google’s strategy tries to “limit fragmentation across Android devices” so as to attract application makers and protect the reputation of the brand.