An illustration of the flying car concept. Picture: AIRBUS
An illustration of the flying car concept. Picture: AIRBUS

San Francisco — Uber announced a partnership to study urban piloted aircraft in conjunction with the US space agency Nasa, following a partnership in 2017 that focused on unpiloted drones.

As part of the deal, Uber will share its data with Nasa to move the world closer to developing air traffic management systems for a world with flying cars.

Uber made the announcement as it began its second Uber Elevate conference in Los Angeles. While Uber isn’t building these vertical take-off and landing vehicles itself, the company is striking partnerships with manufacturers, battery companies, and others who, together with Uber’s ride-hailing network, could make it possible to summon a flying taxi via the Uber app.

Uber has set a goal of testing these electric flying vehicles by 2020 and a commercial launch in 2023. The company has produced its own designs, talked to local governments and is trying to lay the foundation for a future in which people travel across cities in the sky.

Top US regulators are scheduled to speak at the conference — either in person or via video — including US secretary of transportation Elaine Chao and acting Federal Aviation Administration head Dan Elwell. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti spoke on Tuesday morning via a recorded video. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is scheduled to speak on Wednesday.

Flying cars have attracted the attention of other technology companies. Alphabet CEO Larry Page has made investments in companies working on flying cars, such as start-ups Kitty Hawk and Zee.Aero.

Flying cars give Uber an opportunity to plan optimistically for the future while its other foray into futuristic vehicles faces significant challenges. Uber’s autonomous car programme has stalled, following a fatal collision with a pedestrian in March.