Are we witnessing the era of aircraft and automotive convergence nearing? The latest news seems to hint even more at the inevitable prospect of vehicles that can drive and fly ushering us into an era of urban air mobility (UAM) with electric vertical take-off & landing (eVTOL) aircraft.
The Airbus & Italdesign Pop.Up
The Pop.Up concept is the result of Italdesign and Airbus working together on how to discuss the mobility challenges our societies face. The Pop.Up pod can connect to either an Airbus-created autonomous, electric rotor platform for flight or Audi’s electric rolling wheelbase. The video below will show you how passengers would be picked up from an airport. You’ll notice the vehicle’s transition from rotors to wheels. But is the idea honky-dory? Can technology work with enough efficiency and top-notch battery energy density packs to allow for this eVTOL dream?
60 kW should be enough for the flight part for a 75 mph wingless route of 37 miles. Charge time is estimated at 15 minutes, which means the aircraft can quickly be ready for take-off again.
The superficially odd decision to go wingless is that Airbus wanted to test inter-modularity where range isn’t as much as an issue. Now that Airbus has bought Voom, an on-demand helicopter mobility company in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and Mexico City, it is ready to undergo its testing phase. And the good news so far is that Airbus feels it can reach just 2 to 2.5× the price of car travel, something Uber Elevate and Bell have echoed in the recent past.
Airbus’ Pop.Up essentially is a capsule that can either connect to a ground or air module. The project also says it can be integrated into other means of transportation. Artificial Intelligence (AI) takes care of managing trips, freeing passengers to interact and choose from a multimodal transportation system or relax and enjoy the journey in this self-piloted autonomous system that can ride on the ground or fly in the air.
Of course, Airbus and Audi’s Pop.Up isn’t the only one actively seeking a slice of the pie. The UK’s Samad Aerospace is also working on a modular UAM air taxi concept that can switch from a wheeled skateboard base to become airborne with a wing for flights. This HUMA (Home & Urban Mobility Aircraft) rests on a central pod that can carry 2 passengers and can be mated to either a flight or road module.
Lastly, and even better news if true, according to Rotor & Wing, the primary roadblock to UAM is not technology, but public acceptance and airspace integration. If you recall our Airbus UAM story, you will understand how this fits into Airbus’s new business model.
Are we at the beginning of the electric road and air mobility era? The Airbus Pop.Up points to yes.
In the meantime, eVTOL aircraft and electric airplanes are developing in parallel at a fast pace that reminds me of the ground electric vehicle (EV) landscape of over a decade ago. And if it’s anything to gauge the market by, then we have some promising electric urban air mobility days ahead of us. The Airbus Pop.Up answers a particular need that will mesh well with the rest of the UAM air network.