As a quadcopter enthusiast myself, I love reading about all the new ways that drone technology is disrupting other industries and, in many cases, there are direct parallels with the courses we teach here at Drone Universities. However, this is not always the case; this particular story is an example of the latter.
Aircraft manufacturer Airbus has been working on a quadcopter based, autonomous passenger vehicle for a while now, and they recently reached a major milestone, the firing up of its propulsion system for the first time.
A number of companies are working on the idea of flying taxis, but none with the pedigree of aeronautics giant Airbus. Last year the company detailed a project called CityAirBus, a vehicle designed to autonomously carry passengers around urban areas and it has this week passed an important milestone, firing up its propulsion system for the first time.
According to the World Health Organization, the percentage of the global population living in cities grew from 34 to 54 percent between 1960 and 2014, and is showing no signs of slowing down. Traffic and pollution are two of the graver problems posed by our collective migration toward urban areas, and the way Airbus sees it, part of the solution is to start routinely flying over the top of them.
The CityAirbus design is actually similar to another recently released Airbus electric aerial vehicle, the Pop.Up. However, the CityAirbus design has been simplified.
The CityAirbus quadcopter is similar to the Pop.Up unveiled earlier this year at the Geneva Auto Show, but it’s much simpler in design because it ditches the three-module configuration. It instead takes the form of a small, futuristic-looking helicopter developed exclusively for short-range air travel. It’s capable of taking off and landing vertically, whisking up to four passengers (including the pilot) right over traffic jams to important public destinations like trains stations and airports. It’s one way to solve the problem of urban mobility.
If you are asking what is preventing the CityAirbus from coming to market, the answer is simple, “power.” With a maximum speed of 75 mph and 15 minutes of range, Airbus needs a clever charging or battery solution to make this viable.
Power comes from an electric drivetrain made up of eight separate motors that draw electricity from four 140-kilowatt battery packs to power the eight propellers driving the CityBus. It has a top speed of about 75 mph, and its batteries store enough electricity for roughly 15 minutes of operation. That’s not much, even for a vehicle designed for short intracity trips, so Airbus will need to develop a clever way to recharge the batteries in record time.
How close could we be? It depends who you ask, but aircraft manufacturer Airbus is optimistic.
Among its investments is CityAirbus, a four-passenger, all-electric, shrouded quadrotor that the OEM said will fly next year
Why isn’t this happening in the US? Just like in real estate, it comes down to “location, location, location” and “São Paulo is the pre-eminent city for helicopter air travel.”
São Paulo is the pre-eminent city for helicopter air travel. Over 700 helicopters. More than 400 helipads. Dedicated helicopter traffic control. They have solved clearance issues. They have dedicated helicopter lanes. Their helicopter air traffic control is very actively moving aircraft around the city. It’s a system that works today. The regulator is very open about having conversations about increasing traffic. The city also has a culture of urban air travel.
As the World Health Organization (WHO) aptly points out, with our growth pattern, a solution like the CityAirBus could positively impact two major urban concerns, traffic and pollution. Would we really see less traffic or would the traffic just move above our heads? If things proceed according to Airbus’s plan then we will soon find out, thanks to their team of engineers, ever improving battery technology and São Paulo.