HAIL fly­ing taxi

Whangarei Report - - TECHNOLOGY -

As­cale model of a fly­ing drone-car that drove and hov­ered across an Am­s­ter­dam ex­hi­bi­tion hall pro­vided a glimpse of what could be the fu­ture of ur­ban mo­bil­ity.

The Pop.up Next pro­to­type drone, be­ing de­vel­oped by avi­a­tion gi­ant Air­bus, au­tomaker Audi and the Italde­sign de­sign house, is made up of three sep­a­rate mod­ules — a chas­sis with wheels, a two-seat cap­sule for pas­sen­gers and a four-ro­tor drone. The con­cept has been shown be­fore, but a quar­ter­size scale model made its maiden pub­lic flight at the Am­s­ter­dam Drone Week con­ven­tion.

First, the drone flew across the hall and landed on a black park­ing spot. Then a small car drove it­self un­derneath the drone and its pas­sen­ger cap­sule was lifted up to latch onto the un­der­side of the drone. Once the two were docked, the drone lifted off again and flew back to its start­ing point, where the cap­sule was low­ered onto another set of wheels to con­tinue its jour­ney.

The model’s test flight went off with­out a hitch, but don’t plan on hail­ing such an air­borne ride any time soon. There are sev­eral steps to be taken be­fore the Pop.up Next, or a fu­ture it­er­a­tion of the drone, is ready for com­mer­cial use.

“For this we need to tick a list of boxes — the ve­hi­cle is one, safety is the over­ar­ch­ing one, in­fra­struc­ture is one, ac­cept­abil­ity is another one,” said Air­bus ex­ec­u­tive Jean Brice Du­mont.

“I think it will take more than a decade un­til a real sig­nif­i­cant, mas­sive de­ploy­ment of an air taxi sys­tem is ready.”

One se­ri­ous com­peti­tor plans to be ready even ear­lier.

Uber un­veiled an artist’s im­pres­sion a year ago of a sleek ma­chine it hopes to start us­ing for demon­stra­tion flights in 2020 and to have in ser­vice in 2023. Uber’s bat­tery-powered air­craft looks like a cross be­tween a small plane and a he­li­copter, with fixed wings and ro­tors.

Mean­while, a Dutch com­pany has de­vel­oped its own fly­ing ve­hi­cle called the PAL-V Lib­erty that is a three-wheeled, twoseat car and gy­ro­plane rolled into one.

At the Am­s­ter­dam con­ven­tion, Euro­pean reg­u­la­tors also are dis­cussing how to keep the con­ti­nent’s airspace safe as more and more drones take to the skies.

Euro­pean Union rules are ex­pected to come into force next year har­mon­is­ing drone reg­u­la­tions across the 28-na­tion bloc.

Pho­tos / AP

In a sort of Trans­former style, the small car drives un­der the drone, the pas­sen­ger cap­sule then docks on to the drone be­fore liftoff.

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