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Airbus: the new concept for flying cars is something rather different

CoNet Administrator

The Geneva Motor Show is the place where many companies put out their wilder concept cars. But Airbus has turned up with a concept that actually works in practice but is likely to have even more hurdles to legal use than driverless cars. It's.. well, it defies simple description but one thing it isn't is a car that flies and another thing it isn't is a flying thing that travels on the roads.

Science fiction has long given us aerial vehicles that have four downward-facing propeller arrangements so as to provide a stable platform. And, with the advent of toy drones, similar things are now a nuisance as one walks around shopping centres, and that's before the recent problems of one flying close to an airliner that was landing in the UK.

Airbus have teamed up with Ital design (Austin Maxi and Allegro models, if our memory serves correctly) to produce a hybrid vehicle. Basically, it's a powered chassis with a passenger pod that drives around on the roads then, assuming there is enough space for the device to get into position, a large version of those aerial platforms comes along, hovers, hooks up the pod and flies away with it. It's not like a helicopter lift on a wire: the pod is attached into the body of the UAV.

So, how cool is that? Well, perhaps not as cool as it first seems. There are enormous regulatory hurdles to cross, not the least of which is that, as an aeroplane, the device will require licences that go beyond simple driving licences. Also, there's the small problem of air traffic control. Advocates of personal aerial transport say this can be done by computerised systems keeping cars in specific horizontal and vertical lanes - think of the film Minority Report and the airborne Lexus models.

But, are we really willing to put our lives, and those of our close family, into the hands of an entirely automated system where, if history tells us anything, we can expect at least some devices to be hacked and taken over by bad people?

Or if the whole thing goes wrong because someone accidentally cocks up an upgrade?

Are we willing to look up at blue skies one moment and the blue screen of death on our control system the next, even if we are travelling at low speed and only a few hundred feet?

Then there are the practical difficulties: users will have to find a parking space that isn't close to any poles for, for example, lights. So that's many supermarket etc. car parks out of the equation. And, of course you can't drive into a covered car park and transfer from one mode to the other: many covered car parks are barely tall enough for a decent sized saloon car and, even more unlikely, is that users would get permission for their UAV to go up and down the spiral access and egress ramps.

"I think it will be incredible," says Mathias Thomsen from Airbus.

Incredible, improbable, yes. Impossible: no. And that's why it's worth writing about it here.