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Audi, Italdesign flying taxi takes to the sky

Using scale models, the flight module successfully placed a passenger capsule on an autonomous ground module.

Audi, Italdesign and Airbus have successfully completed a scale test flight for their "Pop.Up Next" flying taxi concept.

The companies have collaborated on an intermodal transportation system with a passenger capsule that can be carried by air or on the road. A multi-rotor aircraft carries the pod to the sky, while an autonomous electric sled handles ground movement.

Starting with a 1:4 scale model of all three components, the demonstration at Drone Week in Amsterdam showed how the flight module will accurately place the passenger capsule on the ground module. The passenger pod then departed the test grounds autonomously.

The approach blends two technologies that numerous companies are pursuing for the future of transportation: autonomous electric aircraft and autonomous electric vehicles. Other companies, such as Uber, have envisioned a series of urban rooftop landing pads that serve as connection points where passengers can switch between ground and air travel.

Electric power has already begun to transform the automotive industry and will eventually make an impact on aviation. Aerial autonomy is likely far off, however, as current air traffic control infrastructure and regulations are designed for human pilots. Some companies are expecting to use human pilots for the first air taxi service until the laws are modernized, but such an approach will presumably remain particularly expensive and unlikely to disrupt traditional transportation methods in the near term.

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