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Uber Hires a Guy to Develop Flying Cars

With all the hype (and security concerns) around self-driving cars, an even cooler (and more concerning) transportation concept has been flying under the radar screen, so to speak: Flying cars.

Let me repeat that: Flying cars!!!!

Now, the concept hasn’t really gotten off the ground yet (pun intended), but ride-share behemoth Uber has hired an advanced aircraft engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center named Mark Moore to put his theories around flying personal transport into action.

In 2010, Moore published a white paper about electric aircraft that were capable of heliocopter-like vertical takeoff and landing, or VTOL for short. Google co-founder Larry Page took notice, with Moore’s research inspiring him to finance not one but two Silicon Valley startups, Zee Aero and Kitty Hawk, to develop the technology into working prototypes.

And now, Uber has hired him to head up a new division, fittingly called Uber Elevate, which will focus initially on feasibility studies and building an ecosystem. Armed with research into the impact of airborne commuting in terms of safety, noise pollution, vehicle efficiency and limited battery life. Uber Elevate will work with manufacturers and stakeholders to “explore the use case,” the company said.

“I can’t think of another company in a stronger position to be the leader for this new ecosystem and make the urban electric VTOL market real,” Moore told Bloomberg. But he also noted that everything from aircraft safety regulations to the price of components will need to be considered. “If you don’t have a business case that makes economic sense, than all of this is just a wild tech game and not really a wise investment,” he added.

In other words, we’ve got a long way to go before we’re zipping around in flying cars and building car-pads on our rooftops. And that’s a good thing, because the cyber-implications of this are, frankly, terrifying.

In fact, cybersecurity is conspicuously absent from Uber’s list of feasibility conditions. No bueno.

Consider that time the two white-hat hackers remotely took control of a Jeep Cherokee—an incident that prompted Chrysler to recall 1.4 million vehicles. Then consider just how easy drone-hacking is. Then put those two things together.

As far as drones, consider this: Jonathan Anderson manager of Trend Micro's TippingPoint DVLab division, recently debuted a piece of hardware called, fittingly, Icarus, which can remotely hijack pretty much any drone mid-flight. It can also take control of helicopters, cars, boats and anything at all that runs over the ubiquitous wireless transmission control protocol called DSMx.

Considered another way: Today’s cars feature more than 100 million lines of code—a massive attack surface that will only get more massive once vehicles start moving in multiple planes of space. Please, please Uber Elevate: stay grounded (har har) when it comes to cybersecurity—and make it a priority in the design and development of the future. 

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