Is this the future of personal transport in big cities?

Ashley Coates
Italdesign

The Geneva Motor Show has been the place to see the latest innovations in automotive technology since 1905.

To no-one’s surprise, the 87th show has been awash with autonomous and zero-emissions offerings from the biggest names in the global car industry.

Less predictable was the preview of a self-driving zero-emissions flying car concept.

Designed by Airbus in collaboration with Italdesign, the Pop.up represents a vision of the future where congestion (and pollution) are reduced by taking cars off the road and into the skies.

(Italdesign)

Users move around in a carbon fibre pod that can be attached to either a set of wheels or hooked up to drone-like rotors that carry passengers over the rush hour traffic.

Far from being an attention-grabbing stunt, Airbus insists the Pop.up is a serious project.

“Adding the third dimension to seamless multi-modal transportation networks will without a doubt improve the way we live and how we get from A to B,” said Mathias Thomsen, general manager for Urban Air Mobility at Airbus.

“Successfully designing and implementing solutions that will work both in the air and on the ground requires a joint reflection on the part of both aerospace and automotive sectors, alongside collaboration with local government bodies for infrastructure and regulatory frameworks.”

(Italdesign)

Airbus says its flying pod would be best used as part of a ride-hailing app service such as Uber, which has said it wants to be using flying cars as part of its offering within the next ten years. Dubai plans to make use of drones capable of carrying people before the end of this year.

The designers also say it will take seven to ten years for the Pop.up to become a fully working concept, but Airbus does plan to fly a single-seater taxi, known as Project Vahana, by the end of 2017.

With 60 per cent of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2030, Airbus and Italdesign see Pop.up as a solution to the anticipated growth in ground traffic. Although some experts have suggested that changing attitudes to personal mobility might result in a reduction in the number of cars on our streets, traffic congestion could still cost the economies of US, Britain, France and Germany as much as $300bn a year by 2030.

(Italdesign)

That’s up from an estimated $200bn today according to figures from the Centre for Economics and Business Research/INRIX.

Last year, research by TomTom’s Traffic Index suggested congestion could be costing London’s businesses as much as £237m a year in lost productivity.

Avoiding these costs, and the associated impact on the environment, will require more than attaching rotor blades to cars, as Italdesign CEO Jörg Astalosch has acknowledged.

“Today, automobiles are part of a much wider eco-system,” he said in a press release.

“If you want to design the urban vehicle of the future, the traditional car cannot alone be the solution for megacities, you also have to think about sustainable and intelligent infrastructure, apps, integration, power systems, urban planning, social aspects, and so on.”

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