New video shows Airbus' one-seater Vahana drone take to the skies ahead of 2020 commercial launch

13:28 • 23.02.18



Airbus has shared new footage of its autonomous robot taxi taking to the skies for the first time.


The flying taxi, dubbed Alpha One, is part of Project Vahana, the aerospace giant's advanced projects division.   

The video shows the self-flying drone hovering above the ground for about a minute or so, before smoothly lowering itself back to the ground.


Airbus posted the video on Thursday, a month after the test flight took place at the Pendleton Unmanned Aerial Systems Range in Oregon, close to a nearby airport where the craft has been stored since November 2017.


AlphaOne is a full-scale aircraft that's all-electric and self-piloted. 


The self-piloted aircraft is 20.3 ft (6.2 m) wide, 18.7 ft (5.7 m) long, 9.2 ft (2.8 m) tall and has a takeoff weight of 1,642 lb (745 kg). 

It has eight propellers and a six rotor design that allows the taxi to take off vertically, then adjust its wings to move directionally.  

 

“During our minute-long flight, the primary battery system used about 8 percent of its total energy, demonstrating that the vehicle is capable of much more,” said Zach Lovering, a project executive at Vahana, said in a description of the video. 


Airbus hopes to create a fleet of self-flying taxis in the near future, with plans to have a commercial version of the AlphaOne in operation by 2020.    


Alpha One climbed to a height of 16 feet (five metres) before successfully returning to the ground at 8:52am PT (11.52am ET / 4.52pm GMT). 


The single-passenger taxi was able to maneuver itself without the input of a human operator.  


Future tests will transition from hovering off the ground to directional flight.


If successful, they could lead to the creation of commercial self-flying taxis to help commuters avoid the ever-growing issue of traffic during rush-hour in congested cities across the world.   


In a previous statement, Lovering said called last month's test a 'historic day for Airbus, A³, and the Vahana team'.

“After two years of planning and building, we are thrilled to see our efforts culminate in successful flight.     


“Getting Vahana to this point, and at this pace, has tested our ingenuity and our resolve. Tomorrow we’ll start on the next steps of our journey.”

Vahana's sleek self-flying aircraft seats one passenger under a canopy that retracts in similar way to a motorcycle helmet visor.


The vehicle is designed to operate like a helicopter.


The vertical takeoff-landing (VTOL), all-electric aircraft is made up of a cockpit mounted on a sled, flanked by propellers in front and back. 


Project Vahana began early in 2016 and is one of the first projects at A³, the advanced projects and partnerships outpost of Airbus Group in Silicon Valley.


About the successful test flight, Mr Lovering added: 'Our aim has long been to design and build a single passenger electric VTOL self-piloted aircraft that will answer the growing need for urban mobility. 


“Our goal is to democratize personal flight by leveraging the latest technologies such as electric propulsion, energy storage, and machine vision. 


“Our first flights mark a huge milestone for Vahana as well as the global pursuit of urban air mobility.”

In June 2017, Vahana released a concept video showing what passengers could expect from a future flying taxi service.


The two minute clip depicts Deborah, a computer-generated character who needs to get from the Hotel de Anza in San Jose to Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco.  


Rather than contend with traffic on the ground, she orders a Vahana flying vehicle to pick her up from the nearest 'vertiport' using a smartphone app.


Vahana collects her and completes the 42 mile (68 km) journey in 18 minutes, for a total fare
of $77 (£54).


The footage also shows off some of the anticipated features of the vehicles, including automated
obstacle avoidance and on-board climate control.

 





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