Profiles in Coding: Christabelle Bosson, Uber Elevate, San Francisco

Uber Elevate takes Uber’s pioneering transportation technology to new heights with urban aerial ridesharing. In its mission to make aviation a part of everyday transportation, Uber Elevate is building an all-electric aerial mobility ecosystem that will bypass congestion on the ground and enable more seamless and efficient transportation of people and goods between cities and suburbs.

To turn this vision into a reality, the Elevate team is working with aircraft manufacturers to manufacture electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing aircraft (eVTOLs) powered by distributed electric propulsion. These eVTOLs are not bound to two-dimensional routes, and instead can travel between an extensive, distributed network of Skyports architectured in partnership with the cities we serve. 

Bringing these transportation solutions and underlying infrastructure to life requires some of the best and brightest minds in aerospace engineering.

Christabelle Bosson, a senior advanced airspace services engineer with Uber Elevate, is one of these talented professionals. After earning a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering, publishing extensive research in the field, and working at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Christabelle joined Uber Elevate in 2018 to help design our eVOTLs and drones. With an indefatigable enthusiasm for aeronautics, Christabelle brings her research passions and applied expertise into practice to make the aviation of the future a reality for Uber’s customers.  

We sat down with Christabelle to discuss her background in aeronautics, journey to Uber Elevate, and what most excites her about working at the company:

How did you first become interested in technology and engineering? 

I’ve been passionate about aeronautics since I was a really young girl. As I went through middle and high school, I realized that if I wanted to work with planes, I would need to understand engineering. From there, the path to technology and engineering was clear. Following my dream of working with planes, I went to ESTACA, an aeronautic, aerospace, automotive, and railway engineering school in France, then earned my master’s degree and Ph.D. in aerospace with a focus on aeronautical and astronautical engineering at Purdue University.  

What encouraged you to apply for a role at Uber? 

When I was at Purdue, I did a lot of research in air traffic management for traditional aviation. Once I graduated, I joined American Airlines, where I developed decision support tools that we deployed to all major airport hubs. The tools I developed focused on improving operational efficiency, such as one that optimized gate assignments at DFW and LAX airports.

Then, I joined the Aviation Systems division at the NASA Ames Research Center and was assigned to the Air Traffic Management eXploration (ATM-X) project to work on urban air mobility. This project centered around designing an algorithm to safely, efficiently accommodate increased air travel closer to cities over the next several decades. As I was conducting research, writing this algorithm, and publishing papers, many companies in the Bay Area started to actually claim that they could make air travel more integrated into city transportation networks in much less time than two to three decades. 

I began talking to colleagues in the aerospace industry who worked at Uber about how the company planned to make air travel in urban areas and cities more accessible by safely and efficiently integrating it into existing air traffic through Uber Elevate’s programs. After chatting with them, I realized that working at Uber Elevate would allow me to fulfill my dream of applying my research expertise to a real-world application that would make aerial transportation a bigger part of cities within years rather than decades. 

What do you work on at Uber Elevate?

I am a member of Uber Elevate’s Airspace Systems team, which is led by Tom Prevot, and works on a diverse set of projects. Airspace Systems covers many things, from products, algorithm development to airspace operations. As an aerospace engineer and subject matter expert, I have a role in virtually everything the airspace team does. So, I work on Uber Copter, the Elevate Cloud Services Project, and Uber Elevate’s industry partnerships. We have many collaborations with external partners such as Joby, NASA, to name a few. 

For Uber Copter and drones, I directly support flight testing activities to ensure we test and validate airspace concepts and systems. I also support the simulation activities we conduct with NASA and other airspace partners.

How did your work at NASA translate to your work at Uber? 

It was an easy transition from NASA to Uber because I was already working on advanced concepts and services for airspace, calculating how to integrate more aircraft into cities. At NASA, I was working on solutions that would integrate 1,000 to 10,000 aircraft into cities in the relatively distant future, between 2030 and 2050. When I came to Uber, I actually started to look at how we could integrate aerial aviation into existing transportation networks on a much quicker timeline of the next few years. While my work is much the same, the rate of development is much faster.     

How do you think Uber Elevate’s technology will benefit the aviation space? What about it do you think is going to change the world of transportation? 

I think this initiative is a revolution of aviation. Aviation has gone through many revolutions, but this is the next one. Uber, with its huge presence in so many countries, has the ability to make a big difference because, due to our global transportation platform, we bring a unique background to the industry. We’ve entered a new space that, until today, could only be entered if you were an aircraft manufacturer or an airline. Uber is newer to this space and, with its knowledge of the personal transportation space, robust technological platform, and mobility network, has the ability to make a big difference, which is very exciting. 

What is most challenging about your work at Uber? 

The most challenging piece of my work is delivering results at the speed of a tech company, but to the standards of aviation. This is definitely the biggest challenge in any Uber Elevate project.  In this field, it typically takes a very long time to translate concepts into reality because aviation has such high safety standards, and for good reason, since it involves transporting humans. So, being in a tech company that moves at a fast pace requires me to think more efficiently and develop things quickly at a very high standard for aviation. I’m thrilled to be creating things that are going to be able to fly much sooner, while preserving safety, than in traditional aviation. 

What is most rewarding about your role? 

I come from a more academic, research-heavy background where the things I developed were not necessarily implemented in the field right away. When I worked for the Operations Research team at American Airlines, I had the chance to develop decision support tools that were actually deployed in the field. That work gave me a glimpse of what it is like to build technologies with tangible value to a lot of people, but not at Uber Elevate’s scale. The most rewarding thing is actually being able to enable new aircraft operations in cities and see that all the hard work we’re doing is coming to fruition. 

One other aspect of my work that I find very rewarding is participating in conferences. Part of my team’s work is to educate people about Uber’s new aviation solutions and our vision of a Skyport network. It’s very rewarding to see the light in people’s eyes as they realize that these technologies will bring value to their lives. When you are able to actually switch their minds from skepticism to enthusiasm, it’s super rewarding. Of course, the next step after that is using that enthusiasm to turn this vision into a reality. 

Christabelle Bosson speaking at the Uber Elevate Summit 2019.

Do you participate in any employee resource groups (ERGs) or extracurriculars at Uber?

I am a member of the Immigrants at Uber group, as well as the Women at Elevate and Women at Uber groups. I have been at Uber for just a little over a year, so I’m trying to engage with ERGs and extracurriculars in any way I can. I’m attending meetings and engaging in some of the conversations about how we can promote diversity and inclusion at Uber. These meetings help me better understand Uber as a whole; since the work we do at Uber Elevate can sometimes seem a bit esoteric, I want to better understand my colleagues’ perspectives from different teams. 

These groups have also helped me develop more of a sense of community at Uber. I like hearing my peers’ perspectives on various elements of the day-to-day workplace experience, such as communication best practices, managing cross-functional stakeholder relationships, and being a better mentor to others. These conversations provide me with strong examples of how to be an engineer, how to contribute to the community, and how to be a good citizen at Uber. ERGs and extracurriculars are very important to me because they help remind me that there are many of us and we are all in the same boat. They are definitely foundational to my experience at Uber today. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring aerospace engineers?

One thing that I usually tell aspiring engineers is that if you want to do it, you can. Follow your dream. Going for what you really want will be the most rewarding. If you can pursue your passion, you’ll be able to make the most of yourself every day. This applies to aeronautics, but it applies to every other field, as well. I think, if you really want to do something, you can. I encourage young girls who are interested in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) to pursue their dreams. Regardless of what society says or what other people think, if you have something you want to do and you want to make a difference, you can. 

Learn more about the exciting aviation technologies Christabelle and her team work on at Uber Elevate!

 

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