Today NASA and Uber announced a joint partnership to make Uber’s vision of flying vehicles a reality. The agreement calls for the development of a fleet of air taxis that will include a network — to be called Elevate — of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft, all by 2020. The partnership hopes to reduce vehicle pollution and commute times in large cities.

A rendering of Uber Elevate. Source: Uber ElevateA rendering of Uber Elevate. Source: Uber Elevate

At a speech at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Uber’s Jeff Holden, chief product officer, announced that Uber had signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to help create a broad traffic control system to manage its taxi fleet.

"The space act that we signed with NASA is initially about collaboration around air traffic management," Holden said. “With so many aerial vehicles flying at a low altitude, the collaboration will be necessary to help manage the skies. UberAir will be performing far more flights on a daily basis than it has ever been done before. Doing this safely and efficiently is going to require a foundational change in airspace management technologies. Combining Uber's software engineering expertise with NASA's decades of airspace experience to tackle this is a crucial step forward for Uber Elevate."

There are three cities targeted for the initial take-off of the project. Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, Los Angeles, California and Dubai will see the first flight demonstrations.

The dream of escaping traffic in big cities is not a new one. In 1926, Popular Science magazine showed the design of the flying taxi, and Henry Ford promised that flying car technology would be close to reality by 1940.

“[W]hen people finally get to commute by air, I hope they think of it as an incredibly life-changing experience," Holden said. "This offers people the opportunity to get from point A to point B super fast."