Airbus to complete a self-driving, flying-car prototype next year

Along with flying cars, Airbus is developing a flying bus of sorts

By Lucas Mearian
Aug. 22, 2016

Airbus CityAirbus autonomous flying vehicle

Urbanization is quickly migrating populations back to cities where they once thrived before suburbia's growth beginning in the 1950s. In just 15 years, 60% percent of the world's people will live in cities, a 10% increase.

As city populations grow, so will traffic jams, which already cost commuters around the world up to 100 hours in wasted time annually, according to an INRIX study.

In order to get above the noise and pollution of congested city life, Airbus plans to produce the first working prototype of a self-driving flying car by the end of next year.

"In as little as ten years, we could have products on the market that revolutionize urban travel for millions of people," Rodin Lyasoff, project executive at Airbus's A³ group in Silicon Valley, said in an article on the Airbus website.

"Many of the technologies needed, such as batteries, motors and avionics are most of the way there," Lyasoff stated.

What's still needed is reliable sensing and object avoidance technology, which is next on A³ group's plate. "That's one of the bigger challenges we aim to resolve as early as possible," Lyasoff said.

Under the project name Vahana, A³ has been developing an autonomous flying vehicle platform for individual passenger and cargo transport. Airbus's Helicopters division has also been working on a design that it believes could meet regulatory requirements.

Airbus said executives were not available to offer further details of the autonomous flying vehicle project.

Launched in May, A³ by Airbus Group is a skunkworks unit of sorts whose aim is to run a small portfolio of projects designed to foment industry disruption, according to remarks made at its launch by Paul Eremenko, CEO of A³. The organization sees itself as a private version of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research arm of the U.S. Defense Department.

Eremenko joined A³ after leaving Google, where he was director of engineering in its Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group. At Google, Eremenko led the development of Project Ara, a modular smartphone.

Airbus flying autonomous car 

One hurdle any self-driving flying vehicle must overcome is government regulations, which are only now catching up to small unmanned drones, never mind flying cars. And, "no country in the world today allows drones without remote pilots to fly over cities - with or without passengers," Bruno Trabel from Airbus Helicopters, said in the company's blog.

Trabel is lead engineer on Airbus Helicopters' Skyways project, which "aims to help evolve current regulatory constraints."

Earlier this year, 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, according to the company.

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