Aviation giant Airbus, the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial helicopters, is planning to present an autonomous airborne taxi prototype by the end of the year. The company intends to enter the next level of transportation and unclog the city streets with a self-piloted flying car that can be booked via an app, similar to car-sharing rides. Reportedly, the taxi prototype likely to be out this year will only have a single passenger seat.
“One hundred years ago, urban transport went underground, now we have the technological wherewithal to go above ground. We are in an experimentation phase, we take this development very seriously,” Airbus CEO Tom Enders said at a conference in Munich.
Last year, Airbus created the Urban Air Mobility division that will now focus on the development of the flying car. It explores concepts such as transporting individuals on a helicopter-style vehicle that can carry single and multiple riders.
Airbus hasn’t shared any particular details about the design schematics of the taxi. But it will probably fall under the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) category. The first prototype is likely to have four rotors, just like Ehang’s quadcopter-style drone that was first announced at CES 2016 and is currently in flight testing mode.
Enders says that the obvious advantage of the flying taxi will be a significant price cut – the infrastructure costs are expected to be low, which will result in the reduction of costs for city planners.
“With flying, you don’t need to pour billions into concrete bridges and roads,” he says.
Airbus does its best to address the challenge of air pollution control while developing the car. Indeed, the flying cars could cause an enormous amount of air pollution.
Last year, Uber announced that in the next 10 years it could make its flying taxi fleet fully operational. The ride-hailing company will also base its vehicle design on a VTOL structure.
According to Enders, Airbus is ready to invest in such new technologies as autonomous driving and artificial intelligence to usher in what amounts to an era of flying cars. The exact amount of Airbus investment in the sphere of urban mobility remains unknown.
“If we ignore these developments, we will be pushed out of important segments of the business,” Enders said.
Airbus has all chances to take a lead in the development of a self-flying taxi for the city of tomorrow. Still, the goal of a flying car production by the early 2020s is rather lofty, especially considering that Airbus is committed to making these vehicles 100 percent electric.