Audi has completed their first successful test flight of a self-driving aerial taxi service.
We first heard about Audi’s plans for a flying taxi service last March when the German carmaker revealed renderings of something they called “Pop.Up Next.” Made it collaboration with VW’s Italian design house Italdesign and aerospace company Airbus, Pop.Up Next represented a new concept in automotive transportation--mostly because it wasn’t strictly on the ground.
Pop.Up Next recognized that a flying taxi service doesn’t need to be in a single vehicle. Instead, it has three components: a passenger pod where the occupants sit, a flying component that takes the passengers most of the way to their destination, and a driving component that takes them that remaining distance. Travelers would start off in ground-mode, and then be taken up inside a massive flying drone when it came time to cross over large distances or geographic obstacles.
Back in March, everything was still theoretical as we only had concept drawings to go by. Now, Audi has a real working prototype that they displayed on Tuesday during Drone Week in Amsterdam.
In its first public test flight, a ¼-scale Pop.Up Next flew in with a little passenger module and then landed atop a ground module which accepted the passenger pod and then drove away from the test grounds.
While this proved that the technology could work in theory, Pop.Up Next is more than just technology--it’s also a business plan. Audi is testing whether or not this flying taxi service is even feasible using existing technology down in South America with one of Airbus’ subsidiaries.
Rather than dealing with pods and flying drones, Audi’s test service uses helicopters and regular old Audi sedans. Travelers book a helicopter flight and get taken from their homes and to their destination through a combination of Audi-powered taxi, a helicopter flight, and then another Audi taxi to their final destination.
We probably won’t hear the final results of this feasibility study for several months at least, and it seems likely that Pop.Up Next will need to reach far greater technical sophistication before it becomes economically viable. But the future of flying cars and aerial taxis is on its way, with Audi saying we might have a working full-scale prototype as early as 2020.