Airbus Group plans to test a prototype for a self-piloted flying car as a way of avoiding gridlock on city roads by the end of the year, the aerospace group’s chief executive said on Monday.
Airbus last year formed a division called Urban Air Mobility that is exploring concepts such as a vehicle to transport individuals or a helicopter-style vehicle that can carry multiple riders. The aim would be for people to book the vehicle using an app, similar to car-sharing schemes.
“One hundred years ago, urban transport went underground, now we have the technological wherewithal to go above ground,” Airbus CEO Tom Enders told the DLD digital tech conference in Munich, adding he hoped the Airbus could fly a demonstration vehicle for single-person transport by the end of the year.
“We are in an experimentation phase, we take this development very seriously,” he said, adding that Airbus recognized such technologies would have to be clean to avoid further polluting congested cities.
He said using the skies could also reduce costs for city infrastructure planners. “With flying, you don’t need to pour billions into concrete bridges and roads,” he said.
Enders said Airbus, as the world’s largest maker of commercial helicopters, wanted to invest to make the most of new technologies such as autonomous driving and artificial intelligence, to usher in what amounts to an era of flying cars.
For the last two years, Airbus Helicopters has been working on a breakthrough design that could soon become reality without having to wait for too many regulatory changes. So far, it has been kept under wraps. Developers in France and Germany are working on an electrically operated platform concept for multiple passengers. The aerial vehicle, which goes by the working title of CityAirbus, would have multiple propellers and also resemble a small drone in its basic design. While initially it would be operated by a pilot – similarly to a helicopter – to allow for quick entry into the market, it would switch over to full autonomous operations once regulations are in place, directly benefitting from Skyways and Vahana’s contribution.
The feasibility study has already been completed and the conclusion is favorable. For the moment, those in charge do not wish to reveal any further technical details. However, one thing that Marius Bebesel, head of helicopter demonstrators at Airbus Helicopters, can talk about is how CityAirbus would work in practice: customers use an app to book a seat on a CityAirbus, proceed to the nearest helipad, and climb aboard to be whisked away to their destination. Unlike Vahana, several passengers share the aircraft.
Airbus wants to make flying taxis for city commuters.Rush-hour traffic is unbearable for many commuters today – and the problem is growing. By 2030, 60% of the world’s population will live in cities, which is 10% more than today. To address this rising concern, Airbus Group is harnessing its experience to make the dream of all commuters and travelers come true one day: to fly over traffic jams at the push of a button.
Flight tests of the first vehicle prototype are slated for the end of 2017. As ambitious as that sounds, Lyasoff insists that it is feasible. “Many of the technologies needed, such as batteries, motors and avionics are most of the way there,” explains the engineer. However, Vahana will likely also need reliable sense-and-avoid technology. While this is just starting to be introduced in cars, no mature airborne solutions currently exist. “That’s one of the bigger challenges we aim to resolve as early as possible,” says Lyasoff.
“In as little as ten years, we could have products on the market that revolutionize urban travel for millions of people.” says Rodin Lyasoff, A3 project executive.