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Vahana flying machine
Airbus Group envisions Vahana as an electric-powered vehicle that carries individual passengers or cargo, and takes off and lands vertically. (MTSI Photo)

Airbus Group says it’s on track to test its prototype self-piloted flying car by the end of the year, and those tests may well take place in Oregon.

The European consortium’s CEO, Tom Enders, talked up the vision for Airbus’ Urban Air Mobility division today at the DLD tech conference in Munich. The plan would let passengers use smartphone apps to book rides in electric-powered, vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicles.

“One hundred years ago, urban transport went underground. Now we have the technological wherewithal to go above ground,” Reuters quoted Enders as saying. “We are in an experimentation phase. We take this development very seriously.”

Airbus has been pursuing its flying-taxi initiative since last year. One concept, known as Vahana, involves developing a new type of vehicle for individual passenger and cargo transport.

Last November, Airbus’ A3 development lab in Silicon Valley struck a deal with Modern Technology Solutions and SOAR Oregon to identify and resolve technical issues related to Vahana and conduct a flight demonstration at a SOAR Oregon test range.

Another concept, called CityAirbus, would adapt helicopter-style vehicles to carry multiple passengers. Airbus says passengers would book their rides using an app, head for the nearest helipad and climb aboard. CityAirbus’ planners project that the shared flight should cost about as much as a taxi ride for each passenger.

The scheme was flight-tested at last year’s Sundance Film Festival in Utah, with Airbus and Uber teaming up to provide on-demand helicopter rides. Uber has been experimenting with a similar service called UberChopper.

Enders said new paradigms for electric-powered aerial transportation could reduce urban pollution and congestion, and reduce the need for new infrastructure. “With flying, you don’t need to pour billions into concrete bridges and roads,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

Airbus Group is investing in Urban Air Mobility to take advantage of today’s rapid advances in artificial intelligence and autonomous control, Enders said. “If we ignore these developments, we will be pushed out of important segments of the business,” he said.

In 2015, a NASA study determined that flying air taxis could become as cheap as taking an Uber ride, and cost a third as much in some urban settings.

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