A Glimpse Inside Airbus’ Flying Taxi Might Be All You Ever See

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

can be reached at nickjaynes@gmail.com
  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

can be reached at nickjaynes@gmail.com
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Have you ever wondered what the inside of an autonomous flying taxi might look like? Well, here’s your first glimpse.

  • The Airbus A³ initiative was formed to create the company’s next-generation of aerospace flight technology projects.
  • The Alpha Two, the second gen prototype, was recently revealed showing off a full concept interior for the flying taxi.
  • Flying cars are said to be part of the solution to today’s traffic by spreading out travelers into a third dimension.
  • Multiple hurdles will need to be overcome, including noise, cost and public trust, and even then flying cars might be more novelty for the rich than usable for average people.

Airplane manufacturer Airbus, launched an autonomous air taxi project back in 2016 called Vahana, which is part of the Airbus A³ initiative. A³ was formed to create the company’s next-generation of aerospace flight technology projects.

Vahana, based in Pendleton, Oregon, built a prototype called the Alpha One. This made its first full-scale flight in January of 2018. It’s now built a second full-size prototype, Alpha Two, which is complete with a conceptual interior. Vahana recently released photos on the company blog to show it off.

Since the first Alpha One flight in 2018, Vahana has completed 50 test runs. Now, with an interior, the startup can begin to work with the passenger experience. Notably, designers are weighing how riders might access the vehicle’s cockpit at a vertiport (an airport for air taxis designed for vertical takeoff). The company is toying with both platforms and step ladders.

Airbus Vahana Alpha Two
Airbus Vahana Alpha Two concept interior. | Photo: Vahana

 

More than just building a conceptual air taxi, as a part of A³, Airbus is also investing in the autonomous technology that enables the Vahana vehicles to fly themselves. The subsidiary is charged with tackling the tech that can detect and then safely avoid in-air objects. The system is called Wayfinder, and its tech is embedded in the nose of the Alpha One and Two.

Airbus’ Vahana obviously believe that its vehicles will play a part in the future of Urban Air Mobility (UAM) and alleviate traffic congestion. However, that’s specious reasoning at best.

A recent study from the University of Michigan demonstrated that only in rare cases do vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (VTOLs), actually prove more efficient than electric cars. That’s because they require so much energy for takeoffs and landings. Because of this, they’re only 52% more efficient than gasoline-powered vehicles traveling the same distance, and that’s normally based on calculations with three or four passengers.

In fact, due to the large energy requirement of safely operating the vehicles, another analysis concluded that 30% of a VTOL’s weight will be resigned to batteries. Battery weight isn’t the only hurdle in the way of flying taxis, however.

Noise pollution from the propellers is another concern. I mean, you’ve heard drones. Imagine that sound — but scaled up to carry people.

Airbus Vahana Alpha Two
Can you imagine how loud this thing must be? No wonder industry insiders worry about noise pollution. | Photo: Vahana

 

A third blockage to the widespread adoption of VTOLs is public perception of unmanned flying objects. In that same vein, government regulation might also hinder the future of VTOLs, which some industry insiders worry will be relegated to playthings for the richest commuters.

Can you blame one-percenters for adopting the expensive and questionably efficient things, though? According the the U of M scientists, VTOLs are 80% faster from point to point than a ground-based car, since they can avoid indirect roadways. So, if nothing else, Bezos-level billionaires can feel cool by hopping a flight in a VTOL — and at the same time slash their commute by more than half.

So will VTOLs like the Alpha One and Two from Vahana likely become widely adopted and forever change the way we move around, while at the same time proving to be a boon to the environment to implement VTOLs? I wager it’s probably not. Still, they are cool to look at.


About the Author

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

can be reached at nickjaynes@gmail.com
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