What's up Reddit? My name is Aaron and I study electrical engineering at Clemson.

I spent this past summer as an intern at NASA Langley. I was part of the 2018 NASA Aeronautics Academy. Our team developed virtual and mixed reality simulations for a flying taxi service that NASA and Uber are working to create.

Feel free to AMA about applying for NASA internships, my experience at Langley, flying cars, or whatever you'd like!

EDIT: I am not, nor claiming to be an expert in this topic.I'm just an intern that got to work on a really cool project. My opinions don't reflect those of NASA


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Comments: 315 • Responses: 32  • Date: 

BCGraff148 karma

So since when is NASA getting involved in the flying car game? I know of a couple of companies that are looking to release in 2020 or so but I haven't heard anything about NASA doing it.

SpacecadetShep204 karma

NASA and Uber partnered in 2017. Uber wants NASA to help create industry regulations and standards (air traffic management, safety and training protocols, etc.). Also one of the higher ups on the Uber Elevate project is an ex-NASA employee. Apparently while he was at NASA people thought his idea of flying cars was crazy. Jokes on them now.....

Uptownwoah23 karma

So with this technology being developed, can you see our future world as being a real life account of 'The Jetsons' or more real world 'Back II the Future'?

SpacecadetShep37 karma

Think the Jetsons, but with drone/ plane hybrids. Unfortunately we haven't cracked time travel...that's for next year's interns for solve :)

ghaw3r18 karma


SpacecadetShep41 karma

Uber is planning to demo their flying car around 2020, but it will probably be late 2020's/ early 2030's before we see a full service.

hyteck918 karma

1.What are the safety measures being put in place for VTOL for active monitoring of 360' surroundings?

2.What are the training and requirements being discussed to pilot such a craft?

3.What kind of integration, if any, will these craft have with today's FAA air traffic control?

SpacecadetShep13 karma

Those are the exact questions that NASA is working to figure out. The simulations that we developed will be used to eventually answer those questions.

svensktiger10 karma

It sounds like we’re in for a noisy existence. Are they developing noise pollution guidelines?

SpacecadetShep9 karma

yes one of the big requirements is that the aircraft must have electric motors and minimum noise profiles. A big plus of having them take off from the tops of tall buildings is that the noise wont be too much louder than background noise to the people on the ground below.

Gildolen7 karma

What are the things that make you think flying cars are possible/impossible?

SpacecadetShep10 karma

From a technical side some big issues are battery development and creating a vehicle that can transition between VTOL and horizontal flight effectively while seating anywhere from 1-9 passengers. Other big challenges are infrastructure development ( creating the proper vertiports for the vehicles to takeoff/ land) and air traffic regulation. Since Uber is investing a lot money into this project it's more than likely going to happen.

Barkusmarcus5 karma

Do these flying cars have to register with the FAA? Do they have to stay below a certain altitude so they didn't interfere with air plane traffic? Last question, what would a flying taxi theoretically cost per mile?

Sorry for all the questions, this is very interesting to me!

SpacecadetShep3 karma

No worries about all the questions. This is a very interesting topic !

Yes they will have to register with the FAA. Part of NASA's job will be to figure out the registration requirements and proper airspace restrictions for the vehicles (hence the simulations). I'm not sure about the per mile cost but Uber reports that a trip from San Francisco to San Jose (~55 miles ) will eventually cost ~$20 USD.

midflinx3 karma

How niche or mainstream do you think flying vehicles will be for commuting in twenty or fifty years? Which areas or types of cities will use them the most and least?

SpacecadetShep1 karma

We hope that it will be very mainstream in 50 years :) Right now the plan is to have these services in major urban areas (New York, LA, San Francisco). The vehicles will take off and land from vertiports on the top of tall buildings.

Duke_Paul3 karma

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SpacecadetShep2 karma

I posted a picture of my temp badge Thanks!

Esmer8322 karma

How did you get involved in the NASA internship program?

SpacecadetShep3 karma

my first year at Clemson, I got joined a lab that did NASA related research. This made me eligible for a fellowship from my state's space grant consortium. My second year I applied to the robotics academy at Marshall but on my OSSI application I checked that I would be interested in applying to all the other academies. The program coordinator at Langley saw my application and research experience. She called my state's space grant consortium for a reference. They recommended me and I got the offer!

My advice: look into your state's space grant consortium. It's their job to help connect students to NASA. Also apply broadly!

TxcEcko1 karma

1.Wouldn't flying cars be restricted to land/park because of trees and buildings?Also to take off,how would it work considering the same situation?

2.Would it be faster or slower than commercial airplanes? Would it be cheaper or not?

3.Would an airplane pilot be able to control a flying car, or is it completely different and needs a different license?

SpacecadetShep2 karma

1.The cars will do VTOL from vertiports that will be located on top of taller buildings. This gets rid of the need for long runways and worrying about crashing into trees.

  1. Airspeed wise they will be slower than commercial airplanes ( electric motor with props vs. jet engines), but they are designed to go short distances ( < 150 miles) to help move people around metropolitan areas. The idea is that 2 hour ride with traffic on the ground will be reduced to a 15 min flight in the air.

  2. I imagine they will need a separate license

Rymark1 karma

How difficult is it to get an internship with NASA?

SpacecadetShep1 karma

Not hard it just takes time and effort.

I would really suggest looking into your state's space grant consortium. They provide funding to students who are interested in NASA and do related work. They are designed to be a pipeline to NASA and the aerospace industry. They will help you apply for NASA internships and even fund you if you get one !

itsFrisbeetime1 karma

Does NASA only accept us citizens? My dream is to work for NASA but im not sure if me not being from the us will be a problem or not

SpacecadetShep1 karma

To work at NASA as a civil servant you have to be a US citizen. I think JPL (the Jet Propulsion Lab) is the one exception to that rule since they are ran by Cal Tech not the US government. However, I believe you can still work as a contractor even if you aren't a US citizen.

shaw28851 karma

Greenville, SC resident checking in. Hey neighbor.

So with flying vehicles for commuting, do you think there will be two classes, local which would be more of a helicopter/drone, and regional which might replace regional jets for commercial flight and be more robust and cheaper?

Just as an example, it totally makes sense to use drone vehicles in the air to replace cars, that have like a 2,000-3,000ft ceiling. But if I have to fly to say San Francisco or NY for work, I would need commercial jets still, but I have to take a regional jet from GSP to Atlanta or Charlotte to catch my flight. Maybe a VTOL/hybrid could replace those crappy commuter planes that everyone hates as long as it’s only 150 miles? Thanks!

SpacecadetShep2 karma

Hey! I lived in Greenville for a few years.

I didn't see anything about 2 separate classes while reading Uber's paper, but I imagine their aircraft will be capable of local and some regional support. In the paper they mention that some people commute >90 miles, so they will probably require their aircraft to travel at least 100 -150miles per trip.

aak19921 karma

Do you guys talk about the intern that had sex on/stole the moon rocks from NASA?

SpacecadetShep0 karma

I heard about the moon rock intern, that was at JSC IIRC. Someone told me that's the reason why we can't stay on center past 6pm

SF24311 karma

Whats up fellow Tiger! Currently a senior in ME. Did you just drop your name into OSS and wait? Do you have any secrets to getting a foot in the door?

Also what is your take on the culture of NASA/would you see yourself working there full time?

SpacecadetShep1 karma

SC Space grant consortium. I got a fellowship through them last summer and that gave me relevant connections/ contacts for my OSSI application. Part of it is luck though. I applied for another academy got an offer from the one at Langley. Apply early and apply broadly .

btw go Tigers!

Shakentree1 karma

I am an HMI engineer in the auto industry. I am curious if you have to take normal driver distraction issues into account or have special distraction or ergonomic concerns?

SpacecadetShep2 karma

yes. Eventually eye trackers will be added to our VR simulator to see where the pilot is looking while flying. This will play into dealing with pilot distractions and cockpit ergonomics (i.e. is the pilot spending too much time looking for a certain button, can we move it somewhere else)

lcslima451 karma

So, How do you think a flying car would be like(I am talking about desing and all that engineering stuff)? I always thinks on those cars of Jetsons's cartoon show but I think a flying car would be more like a little airplane...

SpacecadetShep1 karma

It will be a mix between a plane and drone. Something like this

rezonanze1 karma

Hey! I’m currently studying electrical engineering right now! This isn’t particularly related to NASA and flying cars, but it’s more of an electrical engineering question. What sort of electrical engineering CO-OP placements/interns/jobs did you do before landing the NASA job? And how did that help you find work with NASA?

SpacecadetShep2 karma

My first year I joined a robotics lab and started working on a satellite capture robot. I also Co-Op in the R&D department of a company that makes power meters.

Outside of academics I'm heavily involved in STEAM outreach. I host robotic events for kids, write for a few websites, volunteer for a NPO, do public speaking, and I've even done TEDx.

My biggest piece of advice is to get connected with your state's space grant consortium. I got a fellowship from them for my research last year that set everything in motion for this year. Also apply to as many opportunities as you can.

bdog619sd1 karma

Is their a safety measurement so they can't be hacked by a crazy person?

SpacecadetShep1 karma

I imagine there will be one

LakersBeast221 karma

Hello! How did you go about applying for this internship in the first place? What would you say was the best and worst part of this project?

SpacecadetShep2 karma

I did research through my state's space grant consortium last summer which gave me relevant experience/ connections when applying for this summer's internship. I also maxed out my OSSI applications and checked every box that said "do you also want to apply for these programs as well". You don't have to be a perfect student (I have a 3.0) especially if you have good hands on experience working in teams (research, Co-ops, SAE, robotics, etc.)

The best part this project was working with a large diverse team. The academy gets a group of students together, says "hey we want you to develop ______ for ______department", and then they let us do our thing. We had project mentors to guide us, but at the end of the day it was our project to control.

The worst part was that things took longer than they should due to bureaucracy. We spent the first 2 weeks navigating around IT/ firewall issues....

Edit for grammar

Trayuk1 karma

What was the group consensus on automated driving vs piloted flying cars?

SpacecadetShep5 karma

I believe the end goal is to have an automated aircraft with a trained pilot sitting in the seat just in case. In the beginning though I imagine the aircraft will be manually flown.

midflinx2 karma

Shouldn't the end-end goal have no human pilot and a fully automated vehicle? How many decades away is that likely to be?

SpacecadetShep2 karma

You always want a human in there as a safety factor!