Could be in service within 10 years

It’s estimated that by 2030, 60 percent on the world’s population will live in cities, up from the current 50%. We all know how bad traffic congestion is already; add another few million people to, say, Los Angeles, and infrastructure will start to buckle under the pressure.

But a number of groups within French-based aircraft conglomerate Airbus are working on a, err, vertical solution to the problem, by developing an autonomous flying car. The first prototype is expected to take to air as early as next year, and it could be in production within a decade.

Central to the project is an autonomous vehicle platform called Vahana being developed by A3, Airbus’s high-tech skunkworks in Silicon Valley, intended for transporting individual passengers or cargo.

Vahana head Rodin Lyasoff said: “Many of the technologies needed, such as batteries, motors, and avionics are most of the way there.” However, the detection and avoidance systems needed for an aircraft to operate autonomously are well behind those already in use in cars. “That’s one of the bigger challenges we aim to resolve as early as possible,” Lyasoff added.

The regulatory framework has yet to catch up to autonomous aircraft, as well. Bruno Trabel, from Airbus Helicopters, points out: “No country in the world today allows drones without remote pilots to fly over cities - with or without passengers.”

Trabel is working on a project - called Skyways - in conjunction with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore to use small autonomous drones for cargo transport on the National University of Singapore campus.

The ultimate goal is to produce an autonomous flying car, such as the one in the images here, that’s half helicopter, half drone. It would be able to carry a number of passengers on a ride-sharing basis as-per Uber, which is one of the companies Airbus hopes to supply.

Lyasoff said: “We believe that global demand for this category of aircraft can support fleets of millions of vehicles worldwide. In as little as 10 years, we could have products on the market that revolutionize urban travel for millions of people.”

Be part of something big