NASA moves forward with 17 companies as part of bid to transform urban aerial transportation

Jonathan Shieber
Image: CurvaBezi/Getty Images

NASA and a clutch of startup and established companies are moving forward with plans to transform mobility in urban environments through the Urban Air Mobility Grand Challenge.

If it's fully implemented, the new Urban Air Mobility system could enable air transit for things like package delivery, taxi services, expanded air medical services and cargo delivery to underserved or rural communities, the agency said in a statement.

The Grand Challenge series brings together companies developing new transportation or airspace management technologies, the Agency said.

“With this step, we’re continuing to put the pieces together that we hope will soon make real the long-anticipated vision of smaller piloted and unpiloted vehicles providing a variety of services around cities and in rural areas,” said Robert Pearce, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics, in a statement.

The idea is to bring companies to collaborate and also give regulatory agencies a window into the technologies and how they may work in concert to bring air mobility to the masses in the coming years.

“Our partnership with the FAA will be a key factor in the successful and safe outcomes for industry that we can expect from conducting these series of Grand Challenges during the coming years,” Pearce said, in a statement.

Getting the agreements signed are the first step in a multi-stage process that will culminate in the challenge's official competition in 2022. There are preliminary technological tests that will take place this year.

“We consider this work as a risk reduction step toward Grand Challenge 1,” said Starr Ginn, NASA’s Grand Challenge lead. “It is designed to allow U.S. developed aircraft and airspace management service providers to essentially try out their systems with real-world operations in simulated environments that we also will be flight testing to gain experience.”

Partnerships for the challenge fall into three categories:

  • Developmental Flight Testing: These are industry partners providing vehicles that will fly in the challenge.
  • Developmental Airspace Simulation: Companies will test traffic management services in NASA-designed airspace simulations for urban air mobility.
  • Vehicle Provider Information Exchange: These partners are also working closely with NASA to provide information about their vehicles so NASA can prep them for possible flight activities that will occur during the 2022 Grand Challenge.

The Grand Challenge is managed through NASA's Advanced Air Mobility project, which was established in the agency's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate to coordinate urban air mobility activities.

Companies participating in the challenge include:

  • Joby Aviation of Santa Cruz, California
  • AirMap, Inc., of Santa Monica, California
  • AiRXOS, Inc., of Chantilly, Virginia
  • ANRA Technologies, Inc., of Chantilly, Virginia
  • ARINC Inc., of Cedar Rapids, Iowa
  • Avision, Inc., of Santa Monica, California
  • Ellis & Associates, Los Angeles, California, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lacuna Technologies, Palo Alto, California
  • GeoRq LLC of Holladay, Utah
  • Metron Aviation, Inc., of Herndon, Virginia
  • OneSky Systems Inc., of Exton, Pennsylvania
  • Uber Technologies, Inc., of San Francisco, California
  • The University of North Texas of Denton, Texas
  • Bell Textron of Ft. Worth, Texas
  • The Boeing Company of Chantilly, Virginia
  • NFT Inc., of Mountain View, California
  • Prodentity, LLC of Corrales, New Mexico
  • Zeva Inc., of Spanaway, Washington