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

"We need to prepare for the greater use of unmanned aircraft in our urban environment to help address the new and future needs of our society," Kevin Shum, director-general of CAAS, said at the time. "We want to facilitate their use by industry and the public sector, and also hobbyists, but we must at the same time ensure that the regulatory regime keeps apace with these changes to enable such uses, whilst ensuring public and aviation safety and security."

Up until recently, Airbus's autonomous flying vehicle project has been kept on the down low. Developers in several countries have taken on various aspects of the flying vehicle project. For example, in France and Germany, Airbus engineers are developing a bus-like flying vehicle under the project name CityAirbus. The flying bus would use multiple propellers and resemble a drone more than a helicopter.

The company said CityAirbus would initially be operated by a pilot in order for it to quickly gain market entry, but it would then move to a fully autonomous platform once government regulations catch up to the technology. Airbus's Skyways and Vahana flying car projects would contribute to the CityAirbus autonomous platform.

"Our Group's strength is that we have interconnected projects that together are helping to drive the upcoming revolution," Jörg Müller from Airbus Group's corporate development department, stated. "The contribution of Skyways, CityAirbus and Vahana in terms of regulations and public and market acceptance will bring to life the future of smart cities' multimodal transport networks."

Airbus sees an autonomous flying taxi or bus operating similarly to a ride-hailing or ride-sharing service; a smartphone could be used to schedule a pickup.

"We believe that global demand for this category of aircraft can support fleets of millions of vehicles worldwide," Lyasoff said.

"A taxi ride through a new city is a nice experience as it is, but flying over that city would be much more thrilling," said Marius Bebesel, head of Helicopter Demonstrators at Airbus Helicopters.

Airbus acknowledged that it is far from alone in its pursuit of a fully autonomous flying passenger transport vehicle.

Flying car projects abound, including the PAL-V, Skycar, AeroMobil 3.0, Maverick LSA, Icon A5, Switchblade, Lilium Jet, Pegase Mk2, Skyrunner, Volante Joby S2, Terrafugia TF-X and e-volo's Volocopter.

In April, e-volo's Volocopter lifted off for the first time with a human passenger.

"This market will develop quickly once we are able to deploy the first vehicles in megacities and demonstrate the benefits of quiet, emission-free air transport at competitive prices," Müller said. "When looking at the transport needs of business travelers to and from airports or between business districts, you quickly realize that the potential demand corresponds to about 100 times the yearly production of Airbus Helicopters. And that this would only require replacing one out of a hundred ground taxis."

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