Blue sky thinking: hail a flying taxi

What you are looking at is a full-size concept for an autonomous, electric-powered flying taxi. The project, which is being developed with Audi and Airbus, was the brainchild of Italdesign. Audi have travelled to Milan, home of the Audi-owned design and engineering company Italdesign, to find out more.

The company have previously designed the Audi 80, the VW Golf, and many other iconic road cars and futuristic concept cars. They have never before presented a flying car. ‘That’s because we only create things that can become real in some form,’ explains Italdesign spokesman Christian Bolognesi. ‘The technology has to exist to make the concept feasible. It’s a waste of time to take a flight of fancy – if you’ll excuse the pun.’

‘We came up with the idea of using what we call the Sky City,’ continues Christian. ‘From the ground to skyscraper height – 500 to 600 metres. At the moment, it’s a free space that helicopters are not allowed to fly in – a lot of companies are considering its potential.’

Dr Bernd Martens, Audi Board Member for Procurement and IT and president of Italdesign, agrees: ‘Flying taxis are on the way. At Audi, we’re convinced of that. More people are moving to cities. And more of them will be mobile thanks to automation. Senior citizens, children and those without a driver’s licence will want to use robot taxis. If we succeed in making a smart allocation of traffic between roads and airspace, people and cities benefit in equal measure.’

The taxi operates on a multi-mode principle. Two passengers sit in a capsule which, for driving purposes, is attached to a fourwheel ground module (also electric-powered and fully autonomous). For flight mode, the capsule is autonomously detached from the ground module, then attached to an eight-propeller air module capable of vertical take-off.

A test took place at Drone Week in Amsterdam last year – but using a 1:4 scale model. The flight module accurately placed a passenger capsule on the ground module, which then drove from the test grounds autonomously. Testing of a full-size concept is planned for 2020.

While the current model is being designed to have a short, cross-city range, Massimo surmises that, as technology advances, it may even be possible for longer journeys to be undertaken one day.

An aeronautical engineer by training, Massimo is convinced the flying taxi will become a reality, and is clearly very much looking forward to taking a flight in it once the technology is developed. ‘After all,’ he adds with a smile, ‘humankind has always had the dream of taking to the sky, right back to the time of Leonardo da Vinci and his flying machines.’

Stay tuned for more...