Flying cars and no more pilots in flight revolution: Airbus

July 13, 2017
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Pilotless aircraft, flying electric vehicles and bespoke air cabins are the future of flight, Airbus said Thursday.

Paul Eremenko, the European plane-maker's chief technological officer, painted a picture of skies buzzing with new flight forms at the RISE tech conference held in Hong Kong.

Airbus is already testing out what it calls a "module" cabin concept—passenger planes being tailored to different demands.

"You can imagine on a flight to Vegas, you might have a casino module," said Eremenko.

"Or in a more general sense, you may have a sleeping module and you go and pay 50 bucks an hour to have the ability to sleep in a sound-proof, climate-controlled area," he added.

Eremenko said Airbus had been working on the project for a year already, including user trials.

Airbus has also been working on a self-piloted flying car, the Vahana, with testing on a full-size prototype to be done by the end of the year.

"Our goal really is to open up the third dimension in cities and we believe that the time is right," said Eremenko, describing the growth of mega-cities, increasing congestion and technological developments as factors fuelling the development of electric short-hop flight travel.

Pilotless was also on the cards, he said, playing down safety fears.

"We believe the first autonomy will come in the domain of urban air mobility where the vehicles are smaller and there are fewer occupants," he said, adding it was easier to fly autonomously than to drive autonomously.

"That, I have fairly high confidence that we will get to in single-digit years," he said, adding the problem was not a technical one but of social acceptance.

Artificial intelligence was the main focus of the sprawling RISE conference, which Wednesday included a debate between two lifelike disembodied robot torsos on the future of humanity.

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2.5 / 5 (2) Jul 13, 2017
Captain sully lands his plane in the Hudson and it's a miracle. For AI it would be a piece of cake.

I'd much rather have mature machine tech flying the plane I'm in, than any human. Ditto for surgeons, lawyers, teachers... parents?
not rated yet Jul 13, 2017
The creators of sophisticated programming never seem to take security against hacking seriously. Lol, in the future it won't be a gun waving hijacker holding a plane hostage, it'll be some anonymous dude hiding behind a keyboard.
not rated yet Jul 15, 2017
Ghost - I agree, but I'm NOT going to be an early adopter. Machine tech is currently nowhere near "mature".
not rated yet Jul 16, 2017
Airbus has always erred on the side of too much automation in flight controls. You'd think that after several crashes caused directly or indirectly by automation they might have a more pilot-friendly attitude on this. Maybe someday we'll have pilotless passenger aircraft, but the public will decide whether this will fly.
Jul 17, 2017
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not rated yet Jul 17, 2017
100% automation is also very dangerous. Computers crash all the time.

That's why all such systems that are currently deployed (from autonomous ferries to autonomous subways to space rockets) have mutiply rendundant systems in case of a single crash.

That said: when's the last time your computer or smartphone crashed? Remember: On such autonomous vehicles the amount of installed software is FAR less than on your average desktop computer and it is FAR better tested.

You'd think that after several crashes caused directly or indirectly by automation they might have a more pilot-friendly attitude on this.
What 'several' crashes? Go to the wiklipedia pages on Airbus inicdents and crashes. Notice how the crashes are mostly pilot errors (sometimes deliberately deactivating the automatics which could have avoided the crash)?
not rated yet Jul 17, 2017
Ghost - I agree, but I'm NOT going to be an early adopter. Machine tech is currently nowhere near "mature"
-The latest example of human obsolescence...

"Air Canada Flight 759, which took off from Toronto for San Francisco on Friday, July 7, nearly landed on a crowded taxiway — rather than its intended runway — when coming in for a landing at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

"According to the FAA, the Airbus 320 had been cleared to land on SFO's Runway 28R at 11:56 p.m., but the pilot accidentally approached a parallel taxiway. This particular taxiway, Taxiway C, contained four other aircraft waiting to take off, each fully fueled and filled with passengers.

"If it is true, what happened probably came close to the greatest aviation disaster in history," said Ross Aimer, a retired United Airlines pilot and the CEO of Aero Consulting Experts..."

-Its inevitable.

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