At Drone Week in Amsterdam last month, Audi, Airbus, and Italdesign presented a flying and driving taxi prototype. Dubbed “Pop.Up Next,” the concept combines a self-driving electric car with a detachable, two-seat pod and a flying drone.
In its first public test flight, the 1:4 scale model flew to a parking spot on the floor of the hall while the self-driving vehicle drove under the flight module and the pod locked onto the flight module. After the flight, the drone then accurately placed the passenger capsule on the ground module, which then drove from the test grounds by itself. According to Audi, within the coming decade, customers could use a convenient and efficient flying taxi service in large cities—in multi-modal operation in the air and on the road—without changing vehicles.
“Flying taxis are on the way. We at Audi are convinced of that,” says Dr. Bernd Martens, Audi board member for sourcing and IT, and president of the Audi subsidiary Italdesign. “More and more people are moving to cities. And more and more people will be mobile thanks to automation. In the future, senior citizens, children, and people without a driver’s license will want to use convenient robot taxis. If we succeed in making a smart allocation of traffic between roads and airspace, people and cities can benefit in equal measure.”
“Pop.Up Next” is a flying taxi concept combining a flying passenger drone (top) with a self-driving electric car (bottom). (Source: Audi)
To see what an on-demand service of this kind could be like, Audi is conducting tests in South America in cooperation with the Airbus subsidiary Voom. Customers book helicopter flights in Mexico City or Sao Paulo, while an Audi is at the ready for the journey to or from the landing site.
“Services like this help us to understand our customers’ needs better,” says Dr. Martens. “Because in the future, flying taxis will appeal to a wide range of city dwellers. With Pop.Up Next, we are simultaneously exploring the boundaries of what is technically possible. The next step is for a full-size prototype to fly and drive.” He adds that the Pop.Up Next chassis can go 31 miles on the ground, and the flight module can travel 81 miles in the air.
Audi is also supporting the Urban Air Mobility flying taxi project in Ingolstadt, Germany. This initiative is preparing test operations for a flying taxi at Audi’s site, and is part of a joint project of the European Union within the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities. This project aims to convince the public of the new technology’s benefits and answer questions concerning battery technology, regulation, certification, and infrastructure.
The number of companies and joint ventures working in the field of air taxis and flying cars is rapidly growing. The list currently includes Airbus, Aston Martin, Aurora Flight Sciences, BlackFly, Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Uber, and Daimler-backed Volocopter, among others.