Optimistic Airbus plans for flying taxis may be realised this year

16 Jan 2017

Image: Ivakoleva/Shutterstock

Airbus claims its hopes of creating an airborne taxi service will be put to the test this year; with the past a time for terrestrial local transport, and the future one of flight.

“100 years ago, urban transport went underground. Now we have the technological wherewithal to go above ground,” said Airbus CEO Tom Enders this week.

He was discussing his company’s Project Vahana, an attempt to bring autonomous flying taxis into the sky.

“We are in an experimentation phase – we take this development very seriously,” he said, highlighting the need for ‘green’ technology, while also lauding the affordability of such a plan.

“With flying, you don’t need to pour billions into concrete bridges and roads,” he said.

AI and autonomous vehicle developments are helping Airbus along this aerial road, with a project update in September providing detail on what it is the company really wishes to achieve.

Rodin Lyasoff, CEO of A3 at Airbus (the group behind the project), wrote on Medium of Vahana’s ‘passion for personal flight’, with this air taxi not needing a runway or pilot.

Project Vahana. Image: Rodin Lyasoff

Project Vahana. Image: Rodin Lyasoff/Medium

Designed to carry a single passenger or cargo, “we’re aiming to make it the first certified passenger aircraft without a pilot”, he wrote at the time. While 2017 will hopefully see a prototype of the pilot-free vehicle, a “productisable demonstrator” is planned before the end of the decade.

According to Reuters, Enders said that Airbus wanted to invest to make the most of new technologies to usher in an era of flying cars. Airbus is already the biggest manufacturer of commercial helicopters.

“If we ignore these developments, we will be pushed out of important segments of the business,” he said.

Concept images of the air taxis were revealed last year.

Project Vahana. Image: Rodin Lyasoff

Project Vahana. Image: Rodin Lyasoff/Medium

Project Vahana seems to be almost entirely focused on addressing traffic concerns, which it claims are becoming more acute across the globe as a result of increasing urbanisation, particularly in megacities.

“A good illustration is the Brazilian metropolis São Paulo, which set a new record in 2014: on the roads around the city, the rush-hour traffic stretched out for 344km,” it said.

In response, Airbus experts across the organisation are looking skywards to develop three ambitious autonomous projects: helicopters, delivery systems and sky taxis.

Before the skies are filled with taxis, the streets will see autonomous vehicles increase in presence, from almost non-existent to an expected dominant position.

According to Fjord, which has a habit of getting its predictions right, 2017 will not see that influx to any great degree – but changes are coming soon.

In the meantime, organisations will “focus attention on the car as a connected mobile environment”, and integrating the car with the home will be key.

Mapping is playing a crucial role in this regard, with Intel showing its hand in the early days of 2017.

Once owned by telecoms giant Nokia, Here was sold to a number of major German auto manufacturers back in 2015 for a sum of €2.5bn, as part of a future of connected cars and, more specifically, autonomous vehicles.

Now Intel is getting in on the action, with news that the chip manufacturer is to purchase a 15pc stake in Here as part of a shared technology agreement.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic