Flying cars are finally in the works. More specifically, flying taxis.
In the most recent issue of its corporate magazine, Forum, aircraft manufacturer Airbus says that it's developing on autonomous flying vehicles for transporting people. And if all goes as planned, you'll see them soon: The company says the first test flights are scheduled for next year.
The project, which is taking place at A3, the company's Silicon Valley-based innovation lab, has been underway since February. Officials have already agreed on a design, but haven't revealed what that design looks like or how the vehicles would stay airborne.
Airbus maintains the plan isn't as far-fetched as it sounds. "Many of the technologies needed, such as batteries, motors and avionics are most of the way there," A3 exec Rodin Lyasoff told the magazine.
Still, Airbus has much work to do to get this idea off the ground, particularly in developing "sense-and-avoid" technology. While self-driving cars have in some cases, like Tesla's, proven about twice as effective at avoiding accidents as manual driving, no reliable solutions yet exist for aircraft. Lyasoff told Forum he expects that to be one of Airbus's biggest challenges.
Another huge obstacle: No country in the world allows drones without human operators to fly over cities, according to Airbus--and that's the case whether the vehicles have passengers or not. Because of that, the company has launched a separate project, called Skyways, meant to help ease regulations. Its first undertaking will be to install a drone delivery system over the National University of Singapore next year, with the hope being that a successful feasibility study would create the framework for autonomous flying vehicle regulations in other cities.
Even if Airbus's technology advances to the point of becoming realistic, convincing the U.S. to allow autonomous aircraft large enough to carry people may prove the bigger challenge. New FAA regulations going into effect this month state that unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs., can only fly in daylight, and need to have an operator within eyesight at all times. Drones weighing more than 9 ounces must be registered with the federal government at the risk of three years of imprisonment and $250,000 in fines (which, by the way, means there's a national registry for drones, but not machine guns). The rules are so stringent that Seattle-based Amazon has taken its drone delivery program overseas.
Airbus says its goal is to relieve traffic congestion by providing an alternative solution to cars, which is a problem that other companies have tackled in different ways. Tesla, for example, has hinted at retro-looking self-driving buses that would carry around six to eight people at a time. And the first fleet of semi-autonomous Ubers is slated to hit Pittsburgh later this month.
According to Lyasoff, Airbus wants to have the flying cars in the market within 10 years.