HAIL­ING THE FU­TURE TAXI: DRONE-CAR MASHUP MODEL TAKES FLIGHT

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A scale model of a fly­ing drone-car drove and hov­ered across an Am­s­ter­dam ex­hi­bi­tion hall Tues­day, pro­vid­ing 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 one-quar­ter-size 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, two-seat 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 har­mo­niz­ing drone reg­u­la­tions across the 28-na­tion bloc.

“As this in­dus­try is rapidly ex­pand­ing, it is im­por­tant for us to an­tic­i­pate mar­ket de­vel­op­ments and be pre­pared for change,” said Pa­trick Ky, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Eu­ro­pean Avi­a­tion Safety Agency.

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