Ride in the sky: Airbus says it will test airborne taxis as early as 2017

airbus flying taxi airbuscar
Airbus Group
Mankind has been tempted and teased by the concept of flying cars at least since 1940, when Henry Ford quipped, “Mark my word: a combination airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come.”

Over 70 years later, the promise of airborne automobiles continues to make headlines, in part because they’re still absent from the skies. But Airbus says it has heeded the call of sci-fi fans and frustrated commuters around the world.

Earth’s population is still growing and people are flocking to urban areas. By 2030, 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities, according to Airbus, and these new residents will make traffic even more congested — unless we do something about it.

The solution at Airbus is to travel over traffic, rather than through it or underneath. This week the firm announced its innovation branch, A3, will lead the Vahana project, an effort to develop autonomous flying vehicles that could shuttle passengers and cargo for the price of a taxi ride.

Airbus didn’t release a detailed image of their electric vehicle, CityAirbus, but they did include the artist’s rendition featured above.

“In as little as ten years, we could have products on the market that revolutionize urban travel for millions of people,” A3 project executive Rodin Layoff said in a press release. “Many of the technologies needed, such as batteries, motors, and avionics are most of the way there.”

The company is so optimistic about its current technologies, it has scheduled prototype test flights for the end of 2017.

Not all necessary technologies are in order however. Since Vahana is intended to be autonomous, engineers will need to develop a machine vision system that lets the vehicle detect obstacles and maneuver around them. These systems are only just being implemented in road cars — let alone aircraft. Lyasoff called this, “one of the bigger challenges we aim to resolve as early as possible.”

Airbus also seems to be following in Amazon and 7-Eleven’s flight path with a delivery drone system called Skyways. Test flights will begin at the National University of Singapore in mid-2017, using closed flight corridors through which the drones can travel to and from the campus, post office, and port.

Airbus3
Airbus Group / Beatriz Santacruz
Airbus Group / Beatriz Santacruz

“I’m no big fan of Star Wars, but it’s not crazy to imagine that one day our big cities will have flying cars making their way along roads in the sky,” Airbus CEO Tom Enders said. “In a not too distant future, we’ll use our smartphones to book a fully automated flying taxi that will land outside our front door — without any pilot.”

Cars

Lyft and Aptiv’s self-driving car program has come a long way (but not far enough)

Many companies talk about self-driving cars, but Lyft and Aptiv are already using a fleet of them to transport paying customers in Las Vegas. Hop in for a close look at the tech of autonomous cars, and the challenges they face.
Emerging Tech

Facebook hasn’t given up on the idea of building an internet drone

Facebook's efforts to provide internet connectivity from the skies using solar-powered drones suffered a blow last year when the company abandoned its "Aquila" drone project. But the company clearly hasn't given up on the idea.
Emerging Tech

Pilotless planes are on their way, but would you fly in one?

Airbus says advancements in artificial intelligence can help it toward its goal of building a plane capable of fully autonomous flight, though whether passengers can be persuaded to travel in one is another matter entirely.
Emerging Tech

Want to know which drones are flying near you? There’s an app for that

Want to know what that mysterious drone buzzing over your head is up to? A new system developed by AirMap, Google Wing, and Kittyhawk.io could soon tell you -- via a map on your phone.
Emerging Tech

Saturn didn’t always have rings, according to new analysis of Cassini data

Saturn's rings are younger than previously believed, according to new data gathered from the Cassini mission. The rings are certainly less than 100 million years old and perhaps as young as 10 million years old.
Emerging Tech

Water-based fuel cell converts carbon emissions to electricity

Scientists from Korea's Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology have developed a system which can continuously produce electrical energy and hydrogen by dissolving carbon dioxide in an aqueous solution.
Emerging Tech

Scientists investigate how massive stars die in dramatic hypernova events

Our Sun will gradually fade before expanding into a red giant at the end of its life. But larger mass stars undergo extreme explosive events called hypernovas when they die which outshine their entire galaxies.
Emerging Tech

‘Tech vest’ prevents Amazon workers from colliding with robot co-workers

Amazon workers at its fulfillment centers are using "tech vests" to help protect them from collisions with their robot co-workers. The robots already have obstacle avoidance sensors, but the belt offers another layer of safety.
Emerging Tech

3D printers are finally affordable. Here are the best models under $500

3D printer prices have dropped dramatically over the past few years, but just because something is cheap doesn’t mean it’s worth buying. Here, we’ve rounded up all the cheap 3D printers that are actually worth spending your money on.
Mobile

T-Mobile 5G rollout: Here is everything you need to know

2019 will be a huge year for T-Mobile. Not only is a merger with Sprint likely, but T-Mobile is also in the midst of building out its next-generation mobile service. Here's everything you need to know about the T-Mobile 5G rollout.
Emerging Tech

ANYmal dog robot can get back on its feet when someone pushes it over

Roboticists at ETH Zurich have demonstrated how their ANYmal four-legged robot is capable of taking a kicking and keeping on walking -- or getting back to its feet if it's pushed over.
Emerging Tech

A.I. finds non-infringing ways to copy drugs pharma spends billions developing

Researchers have demonstrated an artificial intelligence which can find new methods for producing existing pharmaceuticals in a way that doesn’t infringe on existing patents. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

Coinstar machines will let you swap cash for Bitcoin at your local grocery store

Coinstar, the company which owns the coin exchange machines found at grocery stores and elsewhere, will soon let you easily buy Bitcoin with your cash money. Here's how it will work.
Emerging Tech

World’s biggest fleet of campus delivery robots now transporting student meals

The world’s largest fleet of delivery robots on a university campus is coming to Fairfax County, Virginia’s George Mason University. Here's how the ordering and delivery process plays out.