Airbus will make an autonomous flying car by 2018

If you thought self-driving cars were outlandish, then it might be best to stop reading now. Airbus has just announced plans to make an autonomous flying car – and says it’ll be ready by the end of this year. The new project was spoken about by Airbus CEO Tom Enders, at the DLD conference in Munich, and it sounds like he’s very serious about making it happen.

Airbus will make an autonomous flying car by 2018

According to Reuters, Enders said: “One hundred years ago, urban transport went underground, now we have the technological wherewithal to go above ground. We are in an experimentation phase, we take this development very seriously. With flying, you don’t need to pour billions into concrete bridges and roads.”

And it looks like Airbus already has the technology to make Vahana, the self-piloted flying vehicle, happen. The project has been underway since February 2016, but Airbus wants to have a concept ready to test by the end of this year. And so far it’s looking well on course.

“Many of the technologies needed, such as batteries, motors and avionics, are most of the way there,” says Rodin Lyasoff, the CEO of A3 advanced projects and partnerships outpost. According to Airbus, the challenge now will be teaching the self-flying cars “sense and avoid technology,” the same sort that’s being developed for autonomous cars right now. “That’s one of the bigger challenges we aim to resolve as early as possible,” says Lyasoff.

So, why is Airbus even bothering with self-flying cars? The main reason is congestion. According to Airbus, 60% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2030, and that will create more traffic than ever before. But rather than increasing the number of roads, Airbus thinks the future of transport lies in the air.

In conjunction with a Skyways project, which will essentially form the new “roads” in the air, Airbus thinks flying cars could quickly become the default form of transport. “We believe that global demand for this category of aircraft can support fleets of millions of vehicles worldwide,” estimates Lyasoff. “In as little as ten years, we could have products on the market that revolutionise urban travel for millions of people.”

Although Airbus’ solution appears to be straight from a sci-fi film, it does seem to make a lot of sense, and it’s also interesting to see an aviation company reserve its place in the future of personal transport. As for its chances of working, that’s another matter entirely. It looks like Airbus already has the tech to make the Vahana fly, so the only obstacle now is the autonomous software. Airbus will need to develop code that acts like a real pilot – most likely through machine learning – and it’s this area that will make or break Airbus’ concept.

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