UCSD gets NASA grant to help design flying taxis

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An artist’s conception of an urban air mobility environment. Credit: NASA / Lillian Gipson

An artist’s conception of an urban air mobility environment. Credit: NASA / Lillian Gipson

SAN DIEGO – The University of California San Diego has received a nearly $6-million grant from NASA to help design small electric flying taxis and shuttles.

The three-year project will be run by John Hwang, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering. The goal of the $5.8 million NASA grant is to develop software that will help companies design small aircraft that can take off and land vertically to transport people around cities and to airports and other transportation hubs, Hwang said.

“This project is part of a growing field called urban air mobility, an exciting vision enabling point-to-point, on-demand air travel within densely populated areas,” Hwang said in a statement released by UCSD.

Hwang’s team hopes to develop computer tools that will help engineers build air taxis and shuttles that are safe, efficient and quiet. Designers would be able to input the number of passengers a shuttle could carry, the desired cruising speed and travel distance, and the software would compute the necessary number of rotors, wing shape, hull design and propulsion requirements.

“The goal of urban air mobility is to ease traffic congestion and reduce travel times. For example, a 90-minute ground commute to a downtown workplace could be reduced to a 15-minute air taxi flight,” Hwang said.

A NASA market study has predicted that the first air taxis might begin operating within five years. Air taxi services could become profitable by 2030, according to the study.

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