In Brief
  • Project Vahana aims to transport people in a helicopter-style, autonomous vehicle capable of shuttling several riders.
  • The company hopes to have the vehicle available for short-haul trips by 2021 – which means a fully functional prototype should be ready by 2017.

Project Vahana

We live in a time where Level 5 autonomous cars are close to becoming a reality, and more than one company is working towards bringing humans to Mars. Consider all this, it’s almost surprising that flying cars haven’t taken to the skies yet. But it turns out we may not have to wait too long: Airbus is planning to test a prototype, not only for a flying car but an autonomous flying car.

“One hundred years ago, urban transport went underground, now we have the technological wherewithal to go above ground,” said Airbus CEO Tom Enders at the DLD digital tech conference in Munich.

As reported previously, the project, dubbed Project Vahana, aims to transport people in a helicopter-style, autonomous vehicle capable of shuttling several riders. The technology is aiming to give motorists and commuters an option to avoid the increasingly congested roads by simply booking a spot on the airborne taxi. Think Uber but for the skies – but also with a serious push to invest in autonomous driving technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to make self-driving, flying vehicles possibles.

Image Credit: Airbus/ Project Vahana

The world’s largest commercial maker of helicopters also assures that they are making sure to employ clean technology in the development of this vehicle so that it doesn’t aggravate pollution in urban areas. They also point out that it will help lower cost of infrastructure development since cities won’t have to invest in expensive construction for roads and bridges.

Airbus goes on to explain that they are now in the experimentation phase and are taking “this development very seriously.” To that end, they hope to have the vehicle available for short-haul trips by 2021 – which means a fully functional prototype should be ready by 2017.

Flying Cars

It should be noted that Airbus isn’t the only company looking to take the ride sharing concept airborne. Uber, recognized as the most popular ride sharing company today, already spoke about running a network of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircrafts to take its business to the skies.

Israeli company, Urban Aeronautics developed the Cormorant, a passenger drone capable of carrying 500kg (1,102 lbs) at speeds up to 185 km/h (115 mph) – the technology is being eyed for military applications. In the middle of 2016, a company called AeroMobil unveiled a vehicle designed to run on land and be flown in the air. When they presented the AeroMobil 3.0, the company announced that they intended to commercialize the vehicle by this year. In addition, tech luminaries also seem very keen on bringing flying cars to reality. Skype’s Co-Founder has reportedly invested 10 million to create a prototype, and Google co-founder Larry Page has also put money into a flying car startup.

The future of flying cars is looking very bright indeed – and based on these projected timelines, 2017 may well be the year that we see it come to fruition.