Autonomous vehicle technology may soon take to the air, with Airbus unveiling its plans to trial a self-flying urban transport vehicle before the end of 2017. The aircraft maker revealed its intentions of testing a prototype single-person airborne transport unit as part of project Vahana.

CEO of Airbus, Tom Enders, told Reuters that the company has been working on its vertical landing and take-off (VTOL) capabilities and testing the viability of a transport vehicle that can operate within the city. To this end the company created a separate unit called Urban Air Mobility to develop personal transportation. Their idea is to ultimately create a fleet of helicopter-like autonomous vehicles that people can hail using their mobile apps, just like car-hailing services but fully capable of unmanned operation.

Airbus is taking this project “very seriously”, Enders said at a tech conference in Munich today. He also noted that an airborne solution for moving goods and people within the urban setting would help the problem of congestion within cities.

The company had earlier hinted at getting a full-scale prototype ready this year in preparation for getting a production version ready by 2021, and the new information regarding the prototype is in line with what the company had committed to.

The best part is that Airbus is trying to implement an electric power system for the craft. Four rotors with changeable positioning are likely to be the main feature, but electric motors are another core focus area. Airbus wants to ensure that the vehicle, once deployed, doesn’t contribute to the worsening problem of urban pollution.

Though this effort might sound like it’s taken out of the pages of a science fiction novel, Airbus is actually perfectly positioned to take the best of autonomous vehicle technology and electric vehicles, and add its own avionics capabilities to try and create something like this. Who better than a maker of helicopters and an air transportation veteran of more than forty years to develop such a radical urban transport solution?

But that’s easier said than done. It’s one thing to create a prototype and even test it out successfully, but in terms of deployment as a fleet, Airbus is sure to run into tremendous challenges. Not only does it have to solve major engineering problems that have daunted man since flight was made possible, but it also has to convince regulators that a flying taxi with no pilot is fit enough to fly around over densely populated areas.

Possibly the biggest challenge for the Vahana project from Airbus is its acceptance by the general public. In a world where most people are hesitant to give control over to self-driving cars, how will they react to getting into an unmanned aircraft knowing that their very lives depended on whether or not the technology was foolproof?

That’s a tough question to answer, but Airbus is headed in the right direction considering the rapid strides that the transportation and technology industries are making when it comes to a fully autonomous vehicle.

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