Airbus and Italdesign unveil modular smart city transport
airbus design for futuristic smart city transport pop.up

Airbus and Italdesign unveil modular smart city transport

Italdesign and Airbus have launched an ambitious transport concept at the Geneva Motor Show. 

Airbus is heavily invested in the notion of flying cars. Its secretive Project Vahana – scheduled for test flights at the end of 2017 – has been in development for some time now. And leading figures at the aviation giant predict these revolutionary vehicles could be on the market within ten years. If that wasn’t enough to whet your appetite for futuristic transport, the company’s latest concept takes the idea of getting around smart cities one step further.

Pop.Up from Airbus and Italdesign

This is Pop.Up, a unique mode of transport that sits on the boundary between car and drone. Revealed at the Geneva Motor Show, Airbus has dubbed Pop.Up a ‘modular vehicle’, designed to strike the balance between mobility, ease of use and autonomy. The system comprises of a car capable of disconnecting from its wheels and being collected by a giant drone. This hardware is backed up by an Uber-like ride platform that harnesses artificial intelligence to act on local information regarding the best route and journey conditions.

Read more: Airbus: engineering the future of intelligent factories

Airbus worked on the project with design and engineering company Italdesign. Both organisations believe that, as commuters face ever more daunting struggles through congested cities, the concept’s modularity and resulting ability to take to the skies will be its biggest selling point.

The most important part of the Pop.Up system is the central pod. Its flexibility would give users access to an adaptable way of moving within cities, combining ease of use with the freedom and speed of a vertical take-off and landing drone.

Traditional car not suited to smart cities

By 2030, 60% of the world’s population will live in cities – a 10% rise on today’s total. Italdesign CEO Jörg Astalosch highlighted the widespread revolution across infrastructure and urban planning that’s needed if cities are to cope with this expected influx. “Today, automobiles are part of a much wider eco-system: if you want to design the urban vehicle of the future, the traditional car cannot alone be the solution for megacities,” he said.

“You also have to think about sustainable and intelligent infrastructure, apps, integration, power systems, urban planning, social aspects, and so on. In the next years ground transportation will move to the next level and from being shared, connected and autonomous it will also go multimodal and moving into the third dimension”.

Read more: Report: Smart cities demand smart transport systems

The race for flying transport

The complex concept put forward by Airbus and Italdesign faces a range of challenges beyond the hardware. Implied in the idea is a level of infrastructure that would require a huge amount of investment and urban disruption, while there are also questions over exactly how a fleet of autonomous aerial passenger vehicles would fly safely and fit into current air traffic control systems.

In reference to Airbus’ Project Vahana prototype that’s scheduled for testing at the end of this year, Rodin Lyasoff, CEO of A3, the advanced projects and partnerships outpost of Airbus Group based in Silicon Valley, insists that flying cars are completely feasible.

“Many of the technologies needed, such as batteries, motors and avionics are most of the way there,” he explains. “However, Vahana also requires reliable sense-and-avoid technology. While this is just starting to be introduced in cars, no mature airborne solutions currently exist. That’s one of the bigger challenges we aim to resolve as early as possible.”

It may well turn out that Lyasoff and his team look to replicate the obstacle avoidance technology being pioneered by the likes of Movidius, DJI and Intel in the consumer drone industry. It’s also there that competition is emerging in the race to develop passenger drones, although products such as the EHANG 184 (below) are not modular in the way that the Airbus and Italdesign concept envisions.