Fancy travelling in an air taxi that can beat the traffic? Airbus is working on a pilotless aircraft that aims to add a vertical component to your commute.
The ambitious Silicon Valley project called Vahana shows the aircraft has room for a passenger under a canopy that retracts like a motorcycle helmet visor.
Project Vahana started in early 2016 as one of the first projects at A³, the advanced projects and partnerships outpost of Airbus Group in Silicon Valley."At Vahana, we are passionate about personal flight. The aircraft we're building doesn't need a runway, is self-piloted, and can automatically detect and avoid obstacles and other aircraft. Designed to carry a single passenger or cargo, we're aiming to make it the first certified passenger aircraft without a pilot. We aim to fly a full-size prototype before the end of 2017, and to have a productizable demonstrator by 2020," A³ chief executive Rodin Lyasoff wrote on the Vahana website.
Vahana sits at the convergence of trends in urban demographics and rapid improvements in batteries, advanced sensors, mass-produced lightweight composite structures, and more.
"We seek to help enable truly vertical cities by opening up urban airways in a predictable and controlled manner. We believe that full automation will allow us to achieve higher safety by minimizing human error," wrote Lyasoff.
The aircraft will follow predetermined flight paths, with only minor deviations if obstacle avoidance is needed. This mode of operation will be compatible with future airspace management systems and will allow more aircraft to share the sky. Full automation also enables the firm to make their aircraft as small and light as possible, and will significantly reduce manufacturing costs.
Today, many of the technical and regulatory challenges to scalable, affordable flight are trending favorably: battery safety and energy density are now adequate for airborne applications, low-cost, reliable avionics are becoming broadly available, leveraging decades of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) development and mature obstacle detection and avoidance technology can enable safe aircraft takeoff and landing, and provides reliable collision avoidance in flight.
These trends, along with the rising transportation challenges in metropolitan areas, make the case for a new generation of personal aerial vehicles.
The Vahana team has already completed vehicle design, developed or procured many critical subsystems and engaged with a number of external partners who will help the company build the first airframe.
A³ has made a number of decisions to simplify vehicle aerodynamics?-?and, subsequently, flight software?-?while providing a degree of redundancy that enables the aircraft to operate safely even after losing a motor. In the unlikely event of a severe malfunction, the vehicle will deploy a ballistic parachute that works even at low altitudes.
"Beyond developing the vehicle itself, we're seeking to move key technology categories forward, foster development of the regulatory regime for the certification and operation of automated aircraft, and to otherwise nurture an ecosystem that will help enable the vertical cities of the future," wrote Lyasoff.