The aircraft manufacturer hopes to have a prototype up and flying by 2017.
Located in Silicon Valley, Airbus’s A3 subdivision specialises in innovation and is working to build an autonomous flying vehicle designed to carry passengers and cargo.
The self-flying taxi – codenamed Vahana – has been conceived by Airbus engineers to tackle growing traffic congestion in busy urban areas and they want to test the prototype as soon as 2017, beating Ford's 2021 plans for a self-driving taxi service.
Rodin Lyasoff, Airbus’s A3 project leader says in the company’s corporate magazine that testing the protoype next year is very feasible, as “Many of the technologies needed, such as batteries, motors and avionics are most of the way there.” Lyasoff adds that one of the biggest challenges the team faces is dependable ‘sense-and-avoid’ technology, which has only just started to be introduced in cars (such a Google’s driverless cars) – there is nothing of the sort in aerospace. The magazine writes that no mature airborne solutions currently exist, which is a big problem for the ambitious project.
However, Lyasoff is confident that everything will go to plan, and says that the “global demand for this category of aircraft can support fleets of millions of vehicles worldwide.” TechCrunch reported that there is a large obstacle in the way in terms of real world testing, since no country allows for the types of remote flights needed to prove viability of operating this kind of fleet in urban areas. Yet Airbus has had the green light for testing a drone parcel delivery service in Singapore in 2017.
Airbus is calling its ultimate goal ‘CityAirbus’ – shared autonomous vehicles in which passengers are ‘whisked away to their destination’, according to the magazine. Brandon Turkus from Autoblog writes: “Passengers can use an app to book passage, head to their local helipad [and] climb aboard with a number of other passengers.
“Each ride would cost 'nearly the equivalent of a normal taxi ride for each passenger.' Beyond the advantages of avoiding traffic, Airbus claims its new conveyance will be faster, more sustainable, and, obviously, more exciting.
"Initially, the program would rely on a human pilot, but as with nearly every mode of modern transport, there would eventually be an autonomous version.”