Uber’s Flying Taxis Could Hit the Skies as Soon as 2020

Uber
Uber

In October 2016, Uber released an outline of the company's plan to have flying taxis ferrying passengers through the skies within a decade. Six months later, at the Uber Elevate Summit in Dallas, Texas held in last month, chief product officer Jeff Holden revealed that the project could be taking off even sooner than that. As Reuters reports, the ride-hailing service hopes to have its vehicles in the air over Dubai and the Dallas-Fort Worth area by 2020.

The vertical takeoff and landing aircrafts (VTOLs) will be able to discreetly travel between rooftop landing pads around the cities. They’ll run on electricity, making them clean, quiet, and cheap. Uber expects fares to start at $1.32 per passenger mile, which falls between the prices for an Uber X ($0.85 per mile) and an Uber XL ($1.35 per mile) in Dallas-Fort Worth.

The company's plan is to eventually make using the service less expensive than owning a car. It also promises to be convenient: According to Uber’s estimates, a two-hour car trip from San Francisco’s Marina to downtown San Jose would take 15 minutes by VTOL. The taxis will be flown by certified human pilots at first, but Uber hopes to eventually replace those pilots with autonomous flying technology.

Construction on the VTOL landing hubs will begin in Dallas in 2018. The company is also working with Dubai to get the craft airborne in time for the city’s World Expo in 2020. If everything goes according to plan, the taxis should be giving commercial rides by 2023.

[h/t Reuters]

This Amateur Rocketeer Builds Functioning, Miniature Replicas of SpaceX Rockets

Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images

Amateur rocketry is a hobby that predates NASA. Hobbyists have successfully made it to space using rockets built without the massive budgets and resources available to larger organizations. And some of these rockets do more than reach incredible heights: As Motherboard reports, Joe Barnard, a 25-year-old rocketeer from Nashville, Tennessee, is working on making model rockets capable of propulsive landings, the same trick that makes some SpaceX rockets reusable.

Most rocket boosters that propel loads past the Earth's atmosphere are designed to go only one way. In 2015, Elon Musk's space exploration company SpaceX made history when it successfully maneuvered the boosters used to launch its Falcon 9 rocket back onto the landing pad. SpaceX says its latest version of the rocket can be re-flown up to 100 times, saving the company millions of dollars per launch.

Joe Barnard is bringing this same level of innovation to the amateur rocketry world. He first became interested in aerospace engineering after watching early SpaceX videos, and instead of earning a degree in the field, he taught himself the basics. He's since made rocketry into a career, founding Barnard Propulsion Systems (BPS), a small business that sells supplies to other hobbyists, and working on rockets of his own.

Like the rockets at SpaceX, Barnard's creations use thrust vectoring—the technology that makes it possible to navigate and stabilize a rocket after launch—only on a much smaller scale. He's built miniature models of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets, and as is the case at SpaceX, his launches don't always run smoothly.

Barnard is still perfecting propulsive landings in amateur rockets, but for now he says each failure is a learning experience. You can watch the progress of his experiments on his YouTube channel.

[h/t Motherboard]

This High-Tech Skin Turns Almost Any Object Into a Robot

iStock
iStock

Instead of trading in their low-tech toys for fancy new gadgets, kids of the future may have the option to turn Teddy into a cyborg. As Gizmodo reports, researchers at Yale University have invented a robot "skin" that can give mobility to just about any inanimate object that can bend.

The researchers describe how this technology, called OmniSkins, works in a paper published in Science Robotics. The material, made from elastic sheets that contain sensors and actuators, can be wrapped around any malleable surface and controlled remotely or with on-board light sensors, essentially turning the item into a makeshift robot. The actuators in OmniSkins manipulate the object, while sensors can gauge exactly how much pressure needs to be applied to perform an action.

The project was largely funded by NASA, and it's easy to see how the tech might be used on one of the agency's missions in the future. On board a spacecraft, every cubic inch of space is precious, and the ability to repurpose something into a robotic arm or rover in a pinch would be invaluable to astronauts.

But the technology has potential applications on Earth as well, and not just to allow stuffed animals to walk on their own. Add a few of the skins to a shirt and it could automatically adjust your posture throughout the day, or you could use them to create a gripper to handle hard-to-reach objects.

You can see OmniSkins in action in the video below.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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