Cities are growing worldwide and traffic as we know it will only get worse. Airbus Group's urban air mobility division predicts that by 2030, 60 percent of the population will live in cities, up from 50 percent today. The aircraft giant, second in size only to Boeing, is developing three separate solutions to urban congestion and they all look to the skies. Airbus is working on a single-passenger vehicle, package delivery drones, and autonomous buses.
Airbus CEO Tom Enders spoke about the company's projects in Munich at the DLD conference where he told attendees he hopes the company will demonstrate a single person flying vehicle by year's end, Reuters reported. "One hundred years ago, urban transport went underground, now we have the technological wherewithal to go above ground. We are in an experimentation phase, we take this development very seriously. With flying, you don't need to pour billions into concrete bridges and roads."
Calling on the corporate experience with commercial helicopters and making the most of emerging autonomous driving and artificial intelligence technologies, Enders continued, "If we ignore these developments, we will be pushed out of important segments of the business."
Vahana, a single-passenger, self-piloted vehicle, is the Airbus concept for a flying car, seen as a viable solution for gridlocked commuters. This is the vehicle Enders wants to test by the end of 2017 and according to division CEO Rodin Lyasoff, it's totally feasible.
"Many of the technologies needed, such as batteries, motors and avionics are most of the way there," Lyasoff said. He also stated that "reliable sense-and-avoid technology," just showing up now in cars, is one of their target challenges. The Vahana platform could be used for carsharing, with worldwide demand in the millions of vehicles. "In as little as 10 years, we could have products on the market that revolutionize urban travel for millions of people." Subsystem tests are already underway for Vahana.
The Airbus Skyways project envisions huge fleets of parcel delivery drones. Airbus isn't going into the package delivery business but sees retailers like Amazon and delivery services like DHL as potential Skyways customers.
CityAirbus is the Airbus concept for a multiple-passenger, electrically-operated flying vehicle. The actual design is being kept secret, but the concept would use multiple propellers and look like a relatively small drone. At first, the CityAirbus transports would have pilot operators -- to speed market acceptance. From the outset, however, the plan is for CityAirbus to be a fully autonomous vehicle, ahead of and waiting for enabling regulations and legislation that allow it to fly pilot-free.
Airbus isn't waiting around for some other company or group to be the first in the flying vehicle business. According to Jorg Muller, from Airbus' corporate development department, "This market will develop quickly once we are able to deploy the first vehicles in megacities and demonstrate the benefits of quiet, emission-free air transport at competitive prices."