A year after embarking on a mission to develop autonomous flying cars, Airbus is set to test its autonomous airborne taxi prototype for one passenger by the end of 2017.
The company envisions a world where, at the push of a button, vehicles can fly over traffic jams. Also, people would be able to book autonomous flying taxis using a mobile app.
“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. “We are in an experimentation phase, we take this development very seriously.”
Enders added that such technologies would have to be clean to avoid further polluting congested cities and that using skies could help reduce costs for city infrastructure planners.
“With flying, you don’t need to pour billions into concrete bridges and roads,” he said.
The self-flying vehicle project, called Vahana, was launched in February 2016 at A3, Airbus Group’s innovation division based in Silicon Valley. The vehicle’s design was complete by Q3 2016, and in August, engineers started to build and test vehicle subsystems.
While Airbus will need to overcome regulatory obstacles in the coming years — US regulators have been conservative with both drones and autonomous vehicles — the company’s CEO is confident that its vision is realistic.
“I’m no big fan of Star Wars, but it’s not crazy to imagine that one day our big cities will have flying cars making their way along roads in the sky,” Enders said in August 2016. “In a not too distant future, we’ll use our smartphones to book a fully automated flying taxi that will land outside our front door — without any pilot.”
Airbus is not alone in its mission, with companies like Terrafugia, Aeromobil, and EHang also having revealed prototypes for flying vehicles with self-driving features.
Other Airbus divisions around the world are working on autonomous aircraft projects as well. Skyways is a drone delivery service that will be tested in Singapore this year, and City Airbus is a concept for an autonomous helicopter that passengers would order with a smartphone app.
In July 2016, Airbus announced that it would be using immersive 3D environments to help airlines refine cabin comfort and envision the end result right at the beginning.