First, Uber came up with the concept of self-driving taxis, now, the world’s second largest aeronautical company says it is working on an “air taxi.”
Airbus group says it is developing the CityAirbus, an autonomous air taxi for individual passenger and cargo transport, scheduled to fly late next year. This is to combat traffic congestion, the company said.
“Traffic problems are becoming more acute across the globe as a result of increasing urbanisation, particularly in “megacities” – urban centres with upwards of ten million inhabitants,” said Airbus.
In response, Airbus Group experts are looking skywards to develop radical concepts that will relieve urban congestion. Participating in these efforts is A3, the company’s innovation outpost located in the gridlocked Valley.
A3 project executive Rodin Lyasoff and his team are actively pursuing a project coined Vahana, an autonomous flying vehicle platform for individual passenger and cargo transport.
Flight tests of the first vehicle prototype are slated for the end of 2017.
Even though this sounds a little too much like a scene out of The Jetsons, 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.
Soooooooooooo, who would require such a service?
Transport service providers are one target group for such vehicles. The system could operate similarly to car-sharing applications, with the use of smartphones to book a vehicle. “We believe that global demand for this category of aircraft can support fleets of millions of vehicles worldwide,” estimates Lyasoff.
“In as little as ten years, we could have products on the market that revolutionise urban travel for millions of people,” added Lyasoff.
“No country in the world today allows drones without remote pilots to fly over cities – with or without passengers,” said Bruno Trabel from Airbus Helicopters. In February, Airbus Helicopters and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) signed a memorandum of understanding allowing Airbus Helicopters to test a drone parcel delivery service on the campus of the National University of Singapore in mid-2017.
The goal of the project is to assess the efficiency and economic effectiveness of such a transport system and provide tangible proof to authorities and the general public that commercial drones can indeed operate safely over urban areas.
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 sharing economy principle would make journeys in the CityAirbus affordable. A flight would cost nearly the equivalent of a normal taxi ride for each passenger, but would be faster, more environmentally sustainable and exciting, said Airbus.