As you head home after a long day at work, stomach growling ready for dinner, the last thing you want to do is sit in traffic. As the cars inch along the highway and drivers breathe in the warm fume-polluted air, you think, “it would be great if I could just fly over all of these cars and be home in minutes”. Well, by the end of 2017 you might be able to avoid this rush hour headache, with one of the first ever flying cars.
In response to the increasing urban congestion in cities across the globe, a multinational aircraft construction company, Airbus, has proposed three ambitious projects that aim to alleviate this problem.
The first of these projects is called Vahana and is intended to be a flying version of Uber. Vahana aircraft would be self-piloted and able to transport cargo and one passenger. Passengers could simply use their smartphones to request an aircraft, similar to Uber or other transport service providers. While most of the technologies like batteries and motors are nearly ready, the toughest and least developed piece is sense-and-avoid technology- a critical component of an aircraft that must fly itself amongst birds and other aircraft.
One of the biggest obstacles that Airbus must overcome is the strict regulations put in place by cities to ensure that all drones traveling over a city are flown by a remote pilot. However, Airbus has been granted permission by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore to pilot test an autonomous drone delivery service at the National University of Singapore by mid-2017. This project does not intend to compete with other delivery services like Amazon, but rather is attempting to prove that autonomous aircraft will positively impact the environment and could work efficiently on a larger scale.
Airbus’s largest and longest kept secret is definitely the CityAirbus, a project that has been developing for the last two years by innovators from both France and Germany. CityAirbus is intended to be an electrically operated “taxi” that can transport multiple passengers at one time. While the project will initially have a real pilot operating the vehicle, similar to a helicopter, Airbus hopes to eventually transition to completely automatic operations. Passengers would simply book their seats through an app and wait at the nearest helipad to be picked up and swiftly transported to their desired destinations.
Overcrowding in cities, specifically megacities, has been an ever rising concern for the world, with current estimates indicating that by the year 2030, 60% of the world’s population will live in cities. This increasing population will ultimately lead to more pollution (air, water and noise), more trash and more harmful emissions. Successfully creating and using flying transportation rather than ground cars will not only reduce pollution and congestion, but will also lessen countries’ dependence on oil and allow infrastructures to last longer due to less cars driving on roads. While Airbus still has a lot of work to do before floating intersections and stop signs appear, they are taking steps in the right direction towards a more sustainable world.