A³ Airbus’ Self-Flying Vehicles Aim to Answer Congestion and Commute

A³ – Airbus’ Silicon Valley unit – is developing the first certified electric, self-piloted vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) passenger aircraft called “Vahana” as an answer to urban congestion and commute.

“The problem that we want to address is … congestion and commute,” Arne Stoschek, head of autonomous systems at the Silicon Valley-based Airbus unit, told AI Podcast host Michael Copeland. “Particularly in the U.S., people spend more than an hour per day commuting. And though that’s a lot of time people spend, it’s also very painful.”

A³ revealed last year that it is developing Vahana, a self-flying vehicle that can be used as air taxi, servicing everyday commuters as a cost-comparable substitute for short-range urban transportation such as trains or cars. A³ anticipates Vahana’s speed to be 2 to 4 times faster than cars or traffic, with a flight range of about 50 miles (80 km).

“A core premise of this project is that full automation and sense-and-avoid technology will allow us to achieve higher safety levels by minimizing human error while allowing more vehicles to share the sky,” A³ said in a statement.

According to Airbus’ Silicon Valley unit, hailing Vahana could be similar to other ride-hailing services, using a mobile app to book a flight. In addition to using Vahana as an air taxi, A³ also envisions its self-flying vehicles to be used as a cargo delivery platform, ambulance, search and rescue, mobile hospital or as a tool to deploy modular infrastructure in disaster sites.

A³ plans to conduct flight tests of the full-scale vehicle prototype later this year, essentially deploying a functional prototype by end of 2017.