A question being asked a lot lately is ‘when will driverless cars be available?‘ Autonomous driving is no doubt a massive buzz word for 2016. As you probably noticed, Tesla gained some serious traction through the earlier stages of the year when they released there new self driving car, Model S. For The Airbus Group however, thats only small thinking. From the creators the Airbus A380 and the A350, The Airbus Group have announced that they are currently in development to design the world’s first driverless air taxi service. This is being done to combat current traffic issues that megacities currently face. Although still a little while away yet, The Airbus Group are not holding back, they want a prototype by 2017, and for a good reason too as the world’s traffic problem only gets worse.
With the likes of Google, Tesla, Ford and Mercedes looking to harness the market with estimates that there will be over 10 million self driving cars by 2020. The transportation industry is definitely heading for quite a shake up. Not to mention transportation technologies such as the HyperLoop and TebTech Teb1 in production. The idea of simply inputting an address into your car and pressing go while it does all the hard work is a dream for some and soon to be a reality for others with google and tesla both getting close to have fully automated driving. Although your new self driving smart car may be able to steer for you, talk to you, park for you and even avoid crashing for you; unfortunately it is unable to fly right over the top of city traffic. Right? Well that inability may too become a thing of the past.
USA, China, London and Brazil: Worst Traffic In The World
Within the next 15 years, 10% of world’s population will make the move into a city. By 2030 cities will occupy 60% of the world. As people move closer together; buildings get taller, cities get denser and most notably of a morning.., traffic gets worse! This is particularly a rising issue for Megacities that inhabit populations of over 10 million. As mentioned by The Airbus Group, a great example is the ever increasing traffic congestion in the Brazilian metropolis Sao Paulo. In 2014 the traffic congestion world record was set as the congestion around Sao Paulo during rush hour traffic amounted to a stretch of 344km. The ongoing situation is even worse in cities such as New York, Hong Kong, China and London where the average commuter loses more than 35 working days per year sitting in traffic. Gps company ‘Tom Tom’ has compiled traffic data in comparison to each other in order to generate a ‘World Wide Congestion Index‘. So its clear, traffic is a real issue. In response, Airbus Group experts are looking skywards to develop radical concepts that will relieve urban congestion.
The Air Bus Groups’s Flying Taxi
In the effort to minimise traffic and give people the ability to skip it all together; Airbus’s A3 subdivision, located in the silicon valley, is currently in the design process to create a fully self flying vehicle used to transport both cargo and individual passengers throughout the obstacles of highly populated cities.
The Air Bus Group have visions of a future where rather than booking an UBER through your smart phone to take you through the city; one will book the CityAirBus as they are calling it, and an autonomously flying drone taxi will arrive to swiftly transport you through the air to your desired location. No Cues, No Streets, No Traffic Lights. With the obvious exception of skyrises, there really is nothing in between an air taxi and where you want to be.
An Air Taxi would no doubtably become the greatest shake up local transportation has seen since the the mass produced car.., absolutely evolutionary. With the use of the CityAirbus one could skip traffic and reduce commute time by flying directly to where they need to be. This kind of technology could also be really good for emergency services as they also would be able to bypass traffic issues and directly fly to the aid of people in danger. Similiar to the way that European emergency services have already begun to test drones for firefighting. As this technology advances in the near future and becomes more commercially available and affordable another possibility springs to mind.
Like something out of a Star wars movie, we could potentially see high rise apartment/hotel entrances built 200 + metres in the air where an entire section of the building is dedicated to parking for flying vehicles. Where one could possibly not meet with the ground for prolonged stretches of time. This as mentioned however is still something out of a movie.
Autonomous Drone Delivery
Furthermore this technology could definitely make its way into the cargo transportation and delivery industry. Similar to how there is now cargo delivery drone systems such as Amazon Prime Air and the DHL Delivery Drone being put in place. The ‘CityAirBus’ could pick up, transport and deliver packages across a megacities all without the use of a driver or drone operator…, thats right its fully autonomous!
Can you just imagine how many parcels a company such as UPS delivers on daily basis? Well in fact, UPS delivers over 15.8 million packages to be exact (on average of course). Thats just over 200 deliveries a second. By eliminating the delivery of parcels via vehicles on the ground, the delivery drone could pave the way for a much smoother and less congested future. Not to mention that obstacles around accurate delivery time would cease to exist. A perfect example of how this technology will make life a whole lot easier is the way that Amazon delivers packages in less than an hour. In a city like New York, achieving something like this without the use of drone technology would be impossible.
One obstacle that the Airbus group have found however is the ability to test such prototypes in real life situations and populated places. At this stage there are no countries that yet allows for the kinds of remote flights needed to prove viability of operating this kind of fleet in urban areas. Luckily a deal was struck with the Singapore’s National University to allow for the testing of parcel delivery over the Countries national Campus.
As can be seen above, the testing will take place across the whole campus and will be testing the reliability of transporting small packages from the port of Singapore to various locations around the campus. Drones will operate within defined aerial corridors and will autonomously pick up, transport and then unload the packages, sending a text to the deliveree’s phone alerting them of the arrival. This testing will begin from 2017 and could pave the way for future testing if all goes well.
How long until we are flying in an Air Taxi?
The Airbus Project Leader, Rodin Lyasoff has reported within the company’s corporate mag that most of the individual technologies needed to create the CityAirBus are “most of the way there.” This includes batteries, motors and basic avionic underpinnings. As a result he believes that putting a prototype in the sky by 2017 is definitely achievable. Obviously as the technology becomes more commercially available, the amount of autonomous vehicles could quickly sky rocket and thousands of vehicles could immerse into the sky. Flying around alone is one thing, flying around with other ‘Air traffic’ as you could call it, is another. One of the biggest challenges he now faces and is perfecting an obstacle avoidance system – similar to that of Google and Telsa Vehicles, however for sky borne vehicles. As previously mentioned, testing will being in 2017 and will allow for the avoidance system to be developed and tested in a real life situation.
As for the design and functionality of the vehicle, for the past couple of years ‘AirBus helicopters’ have been working on a breakthrough design that could easily become a reality for the autonomous vehicle without to many regulatory changes. It is has been said that the CityAirbus would have multiple propellers and resemble that of a small drone in its basic design. From this one could envision an aircraft similar to that featured in the James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ Film with the side by side drone like propellers and the ability to maneuver better than most insects. The Airbus developers have explained that:
“The aerial vehicle, which goes by the working title of CityAirbus, would have multiple propellers and also resemble a small drone in its basic design. While initially it would be operated by a pilot – similarly to a helicopter – to allow for quick entry into the market, it would switch over to full autonomous operations once regulations are in place.”
In conclusion, it appears that the team is fairly confident in what they are doing and that they can get a working model out there in the near future. CEO Tom Enders has concluded that.
“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,”
“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,”
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