Bypassing traffic jams by literally taking flight: by 2030 this could be an option thanks to the autonomous electric taxi Pop.Up Next.
Only create things that can become reality in some form. This is the philosophy of Italdesign, the Italian company that is developing the Pop.Up Next alongside Audi and Airbus.
A lot of progress has been made since 2017, when the first prototype was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show, and finally the idea of flying above the traffic and leaving traffic jams behind is no longer a utopian fantasy. However, Pop.Up Next is not just a flying car: it is a self-driving, self-flying electric robotaxi, designed to operate on a multi-mode principle.
A capsule for two
Two passengers sit in an independent capsule, which, for driving purposes, can be attached to a four-wheel ground module, or to an eight-rotor drone – capable of vertical take-off – for flight mode.
The look is futuristic and minimalist, both inside and outside the cabin, where the onboard digital systems connect to the passengers’ smartphones, so they can be recognised and welcomed aboard by the Personal Intelligent Assistant. Behind the two seats there is space for luggage, while the dashboard in the front is one large screen that incorporates augmented-reality and eye-tracking technology. Where the gear lever would normally be found is another screen and by pressing on it users can manage the ambient-lighting and the speakers.
Trust and safety
Many of the vehicle surfaces are made of glass, but not the floor – this allows passengers to enjoy the view, but still gives them an overriding feeling of safety and solidity.
In this regard, Stefano Mancuso, co-ordinator of the electrical and electronic architecture, explains: “I’m sure people won’t trust an autonomous flying machine 100% straight away – even though we already fly around the world in airliners on autopilot. But by the time the flying taxi becomes a reality – say, by 2030 – we’ll all be very used to using autonomous cars”. In any case, even when taxi’s in the air, there will always be someone able to take remote control of the robotaxi if necessary.
Better batteries, less noise
Last year, at Drone Week in Amsterdam, a 1:4 scale model of Pop.Up Next successfully put on some public demonstrations, completing the delicate module-base coupling and decoupling phases without issues.
A final version of Pop.Up Next, however, will require more powerful batteries than those currently available. Another issue is how to reduce the noise and the whirring typical of drone rotors. The project’s partners are working on these questions together.
A blank canvas
“When the technology’s mature”, Massimo Martinotti, head of mobility solutions at Italdesign, explains, “we estimate that there could be 200,000 to 300,000 flying taxis in operation all over the world, and several thousand could be deployed in a city like London. We envisage that, to start with, they’d operate in strict air corridors only, but in the long term, it may be possible to open up the sky and give them more freedom”.
At the same time, as technology evolves, their range will get progressively greater, and they could eventually offer longer journeys.
Source: AUDI AG