The aerial vehicle, dubbed CityAirbus, would resemble a small drone. Graphic courtesy of Airbus
Airbus Group has performed preliminary design work on a flying car and an electric-powered flying bus and is building and testing subsystems for the car prototype, which it aims to fly by the end of next year.
The parent of Airbus Helicopters, Airbus Defence and Space and the airliner maker Airbus posted a rundown on its website of three projects underway to support swift movement of people and goods in urban areas throughout the world.
The projects are spurred by the growth and increasing congestion of those areas, Airbus said, citing projections that 10% more people will live in cities by 2030 and many of them will reside in “megacities” with populations exceeding 10 million people each.
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Airbus said its projects include one called Vahana (to develop an autonomous aircraft for individual passenger and cargo transport), another dubbed Skyways (to lay the groundwork for regulations permitted autonomous aircraft flight over congested areas) and a third, aimed at rapidly developing a multi-passenger aircraft tentatively called CityAirbus.
“Traffic problems are becoming more acute across the globe as a result of increasing urbanization,” the manufacturer’s report said. In Sao Paulo, Brazil (population 21 million plus), one study estimated traffic backups cost the national economy “at least $31 billion a year,” Airbus said. Another study found that residents of London (population 10.3 million) “lose the equivalent of 35 working days a year idling in traffic. The situation is even worse in cities such as Mumbai, Manila or Tokyo.”
Flight tests of the first Vahana prototype are slated for the end of 2017. The project has been underway since February, Airbus said, and a team of “internal and external developers and partners have agreed on a vehicle design and is beginning to build and test vehicle subsystems.”
The Airbus report quoted a project executive, Rodin Lyasoff, with its A3 (or A Cubed) “Silicon Valley outpost” as saying, “Many of the technologies needed, such as batteries, motors and avionics are most of the way there.”
But Lyasoff said that to succeed the project would need reliable sense-and-avoid technology” to avert collisions with obstacles and other aircraft. “That’s one of the bigger challenges we aim to resolve as early as possible,” Lyasoff said.
Vahana’s target customers include transport operators interested in providing transport services similar to car-sharing applications like Uber and Lyft. The manufacturer said it believes such services could sustain demand for “millions of vehicles worldwide.” Volume production to meet such demand would drive down development, certification and manufacturing costs.
“In as little as 10 years, we could have products on the market that revolutionize urban travel for millions of people,” Lyasoff said in the report. The Skyways project — also launched last February — involves Airbus Helicopters and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, which plan to use the campus of the National University of Singapore to test a drone airborne delivery service next year. The report said Airbus Helicopters is developing an autonomous drone and an infrastructure based on an operation management system created by Airbus Defence and Space.
Skyways’ goal “is to assess the efficiency and economic effectiveness of such a transport system and provide tangible proof to authorities and the general public that commercial drones can indeed operate safely over urban areas,” Airbus said.
Airbus Helicopters developers in France and Germany also have been working for two years on the design of “an electrically operated platform concept for multiple passengers,” Airbus said. This CityAirbus “would have multiple propellers and also resemble a small drone in its basic design,” Airbus said. Initially operated by a pilot “to allow for quick entry into the market, it would switch over to full autonomous operations once regulations are in place, directly benefitting from Skyways and Vahana’s contribution.”