European aerospace giant Airbus has unveiled plans to develop a “flying car” to function as an aerial taxi and carry cargo.
The project, known as “Vahana”, will be run by Airbus subsidiary A^3, which was set up in Silicon Valley in 2016.
A^3 CEO Rodin Lyasoff said flight tests of the first vehicle prototype should take place before the end of 2017.
“Many of the technologies needed, such as batteries, motors and avionics are most of the way there,” he said.
According to Lyasoff one of the biggest challenges would involve developing reliable sense-and-avoid technology to ensure the pilotless craft could avoid collision.
Target markets for the craft could include transport service providers and the system could operate in a similar way to car sharing applications such as Uber, he said.
“We believe that global demand for this category of aircraft can support fleets of millions of vehicles worldwide,” said Lyasoff.
Such a huge potential market meant that the costs of developing, certifying and manufacturing such a craft would go down, he said.
“In as little as 10 years, we could have products on the market that revolutionise urban travel for millions of people,” he said, adding that the project team had agreed on a vehicle design and was beginning to build and test vehicle subsystems.
Airbus also plans to test a pilotless drone helicopter parcel delivery service on the campus of the National University of Singapore in mid-2017 as part of its Skyways project.
Bruno Trabel, an engineer at Airbus Helicopters, said: “We’ve no intention of competing with the Amazons and DHLs of this world. On the contrary, we see these companies as potential customers.”
The main aim of the project is to assess the efficiency and cost of such a project and provide tangible proof to regulatory authorities and the public that drones can operate safely over urban areas.
Airbus will be working jointly with Singapore’s aviation authority and success in the pilot phase could lead to commercial projects being launched in Singapore and then other parts of the globe, said Trabel.
Meanwhile, Airbus developers in France and Germany are working on CityAirbus, an electrically operated vehicle with multiple propellers that would carry small groups of passengers.
“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 benefiting from Skyways and Vahana’s contribution,” said Airbus.
“A flight would cost nearly the equivalent of a normal taxi ride for each passenger, but would be faster, more environmentally sustainable and exciting.”
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