A team of Airbus engineers based out of Silicon Valley is currently working on the development of a new autonomous flying vehicle platform — one that’s been dubbed “Vahana” by those involved.
The flying-vehicle platform — which is intended to be both used for cargo transport and passenger transport purposes — is slated to begin real-world prototype testing by the end of 2017.
“We believe that global demand for this category of aircraft can support fleets of millions of vehicles worldwide,” stated Rodin Lyasoff, lead Airbus engineer on the project at A3 (the Airbus innovation outpost in Silicon Valley). “In as little as 10 years, we could have products on the market that revolutionize urban travel for millions of people.”
“Many of the technologies needed, such as batteries, motors and avionics are most of the way there,” continued Lyasoff. The project will also require very reliable sense-and-avoid technology, he noted — while such technologies are now being deployed in the automotive sector, no mature solutions are yet available for the aviation sector.
“That’s one of the bigger challenges we aim to resolve as early as possible,” stated Lyasoff.
Airbus is apparently anticipating high demand for Vahana, which would drive associated costs down, making the technology more economical than it may seem at first.
“A3 is powering ahead with Vahana, and as is typical for Silicon Valley, the company thinks in terms of weeks, not years,” an Airbus statement read.
AVweb provides more: “Officially underway since February, the project’s team of internal and external developers and partners has agreed on a vehicle design and are beginning to build and test vehicle subsystems. Meanwhile, developers in France and Germany are working on an electrically operated platform concept for multiple passengers, Airbus said. This aerial vehicle, which goes by the working title of CityAirbus, would have multiple propellers and would 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, directly benefitting from Vahana’s contribution. The feasibility study has already been completed and the conclusion is favorable, Airbus said.”
The company envisions a scenario where interested customers could simply book a seat on a CityAirbus through a smartphone app, then proceed to the closest helipad and “climb aboard to be whisked away to their destination.”
(Tip of the hat to “Patrick W” on the Tesla Motors Club forum.)
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