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Rocket Science: Uber Hires NASA Scientist To Explore Flying Cars

Apparently self-driving cars isn't enough for Uber, as the ride-hailing company has brought in NASA on-demand mobility expert Mark Moore to give its next projects some extra lift.

Uber’s latest high-profile hire has the on-demand platform reaching for the moon — almost literally.

After a 30-year career with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Mark Moore is joining Uber to build on research he’s done on the possibility of creating vehicles that operate somewhere within the range of helicopters and drones: i.e., flying cars.

“Uber continues to see its role as a catalyst to the growing developing VTOL ecosystem,”said Nikhil Goel, Head of Product for Advanced Programs,  in a statement. “We’re excited to have Mark join us to work with companies and stakeholders as we continue to explore the use case described in our white paper.”

Moore’s hiring, first reported by Bloomberg Businessweek’s Brad Stone, will build off ideas he explored in a white paper on the subject of VTOL—short for vertical takeoff and landing (aka “flying cars”). The white paper has made the rounds of technologists for a while and even spurred Google co-founder Larry Page to invest in two startups in that space, Zee Aero and Kitty Hawk.

The ride-hailing company’s interest in developing a flying car predates Moore’s start date. The Uber Elevate project (see the link for the PDF outlining the idea of “on-demand aviation”) began as a strictly theoretical initiative las October. One scenario involving the future of flying cars under Uber Elevate involves the creation of “vertiports,” which would serve like a helicopter heliport that other Uber vehicles could take users to and from.

“On-demand aviation, has the potential to radically improve urban mobility, giving people back time lost in their daily commutes,” Uber said in its introduction of the Elevate project. “Uber is close to the commute pain that citizens in cities around the world feel. We view helping to solve this problem as core to our mission and our commitment to our rider base.

“Just as skyscrapers allowed cities to use limited land more efficiently, urban air transportation will use three-dimensional airspace to alleviate transportation congestion on the ground,” Uber adds.

Uber Elevate was followed last December by the founding of Uber AI Labs, a new division of the company fully dedicated to studying artificial intelligence, whicj includes producing the kind of technology necessary to make a full fleet of Uber self-driving cars a reality as well as advancing the capabilities of the connected car.

Whether or not Uber does roll out flying car prototypes over the next few years, Moore’s research could have more immediate applications for keeping the company ahead of rivals such as Google, which are also racing to own the next wave of on-demand and location-centric technology products and offerings.