Airbus Group’s Self-Piloted Flying Car

A vision to reduce traffic congestion by taking to the skies

A proposed benefit of the self-driving cars in development through numerous auto and tech companies is traffic reduction. Airbus Group CEO Tom Enders, however, wants to do one better—lift people off the streets and out of any potential complication. Speaking at Munich’s DLD digital tech conference, Enders addressed Airbus Group’s Project Vahana: a short-haul, self-flying urban aircraft. Yes, that’s more or less a flying car—announced in 2016 but affirmed to a greater degree just now. Enders foresees a working prototype in testing by the end of 2017—and product delivery around 2021. The vehicle would ferry around one single passenger and cargo—though Airbus Group’s Urban Air Mobility is also toying with “a helicopter-style vehicle that can carry multiple riders,” according to Reuters.

Regarding the former, Tech Crunch proposes that the vehicle “will likely use a four-rotor design with variable positioning possible to help with vertical take off.” As the world’s largest maker of commercial helicopters, Airbus does appear to have the technology needed to execute vertical take-off and landing. A low-impact electric motor is also expected to minimize environmental effects.

Right now, beyond governing new air lanes, Airbus still needs to create or enhance reliable “sense-and-avoid technology.” “That’s one of the bigger challenges we aim to resolve as early as possible,” Airbus Group’s A^3 division (the R&D division based in Silicon Valley, pronounced A-cubed) CEO Rodin Lyasoff states. This technology has been applied to self-driving cars, but there is no airborne iteration yet. When all of the pieces comes together, Airbus Group sees these vehicles being used much on call—much like a car-sharing service with a dedicated app. It may seem far-fetched but serious resources have been applied and the continued confidence of Airbus’ leadership makes us all hopeful. Plus, we can’t help but think the surge of consumer drone pilots might pave the way for more operators of this kind of vehicle.

Images courtesy of the Airbus Group