Airbus heads skyward with flying taxi concept to take on urban congestion

Unveils autonomous flying vehicle

Artist’s impression of the multipropeller City Airbus vehicle being developed as a part of the Airbus Vahana project - image courtesy of Airbus
An artist’s impression of the multipropeller CityAirbus vehicle being developed as a part of the Airbus Vahana project - image courtesy of Airbus.

Aerospace leader Airbus has revealed its ambitious Vahana project, which it hopes could revolutionise the future of urban transport.

The Airbus Vahana project aims to relieve the world’s urban congestion by changing the concept of city commuting by taking it skyward. The Silicon Valley-based Vahana project is an autonomous flying vehicle platform for individual passenger and cargo transport.

The European aerospace giant is developing the Vahana vehicle through its A3 unit – it’s innovation outpost which opened this year in Silicon Valley.

The Vahana project has been underway since February 2016 with the A3 team behind the project beginning to build and test vehicle subsystems. The Vahana project is being developed as Airbus attempts to address the issue of urban congestion and the problem this creates for city commuters.

According to the Airbus website, by 2030 it is estimated that 60% of the world’s population will live in cities, an increase of 10% compared to today.

To address the near future where the majority of the world’s population live in cities and the congestion problems this creates, Airbus has developed its flying autonomous vehicle which could become a ‘taxi for the skies’ in urban metropolises such as Brazil’s Sau Paulo. The Brazilian a city is seen as desperately needikng a reprieve from its urban congestion after setting a new record in 2014 when its rush-hour traffic stretched for 344kms around the city.

The Airbus Vahana project aims to help relieve the congestion faced in city’s such as Sau Paulo by changing the basis and concept of urban commuting from being ground-based to captialising on the untapped spaces in the sky.

Airbus Vahana flying taxi project

To achieve this vision, Airbus has developed it’s potential ‘flying taxi’ pilotless passenger aircraft which could operate within a transport service provider system, similar to car-sharing applications whereby customers can book the flying vehicle through the use of their smartphone or other devices.

Airbus Group’s A3 project executive Rodin Lyasoff said the company’s autonomous flying vehicle would revolutionise urban travel throughout the world’s cities.

“We believe that global demand for this category of aircraft can support fleets of millions of vehicles worldwide,” he said.

“In as little as ten years, we could have products on the market that revolutionise urban travel for millions of people.”

Regulation hampering flying car concept

Whilst the Airbus’ Vahana project could provide a solution to the world’s urban congestion, it’s biggest challenge will be in the form of regulators throughout the world, with no country currently allowing drones without remote pilots to fly over cities.

In an attempt to change the regulations before their autonomous flying vehicle is seen as a viable commuter transport option, Airbus has implemented the Skyways project which aims to help evolve current regulatory constraints.

For this pilot project, Airbus Helicopters is developing an autonomous drone and the overall infrastructure, which is based on an operation management system created by Airbus Defence and Space.

The goal of this project is to assess the efficiency and economic effectiveness of a transport system such as the Vahana prototype and provide tangible proof to authorities and the general public that commercial drones can indeed operate safely over urban areas.

Airbus has aimed for the first flight tests of the first autonomous flying vehicle prototype to be conducted at the end of 2017, with sales of the vehicle planned for 2020.

Related article: Uber plans autonomous flying cars in a decade