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In January, Airbus announced a lofty goal: to develop a flying car prototype by 2018. Airbus, maker of the world’s largest commercial airliner, believes that personal flying cars could help alleviate terrestrial traffic jams. Now, we’ve got a good idea of how that prototype could end up looking after Airbus revealed a prototype design called “Pop.Up.” on Tuesday in Munich.
Airbus partnered with design firm Italdesign on the project, and the result is… oddly familiar. The prototype design, when airborne, looks like a giant drone.
Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that. Airbus describes the system:
At the heart of the concept is a capsule: designed to accommodate passengers. This high-tech, monocoque carbon-fibre cocoon measures 2.6 metres long, 1.4 metres high, and 1.5 metres wide. The capsule transforms itself into a city car by simply coupling to the ground module, which features a carbon-fibre chassis and is battery powered.
When it’s time to beat the traffic, this capsule disengages from its wheeled ground module and attaches to an eight-rotor air module. The ground module has an 80 HP motor and a range of 80 miles (definitely meant for cross-city jaunts rather than long road trips). Similarly, the four-motor air module has a range of 60 miles. And inside the capsule, passengers will interact with the vehicle in a “fully virtual environment.” When not in use, air and ground modules return to their recharge stations and juice up until the next customer arrives.
In a video interview, Airbus Urban Air Mobility general manager Mathias Thomsen says, “Right now the urban sky is quite underutilized…The grid like layout of road doesn’t do it for us. We think by combining air and ground we will get a much better use of the space that we have in our cities.”
Airbus isn’t the only one looking into this idea of taking our automobile traffic skywards. The city of Dubai is planning to launch a pilot of autonomous taxi drones as soon as this summer.
Still, it seems like there are a lot of logistics to be worked out before these flying cars can start zipping by our office windows. For example, how will they handle an encounter with a rogue flock of pigeons?
Christina Bonnington is a tech reporter who specializes in consumer gadgets, apps, and the trends shaping the technology industry. Her work has also appeared in Gizmodo, Wired, Refinery29, Slate, Bicycling, and Outside Magazine. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a background in electrical engineering.