It was earlier reported in last February, that the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and Airbus Helicopters, a division of Airbus, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to conduct Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) trials in Singapore.
The agreement is a collaboration between the two parties on the Skyways Experimentation Project, with a goal to develop an airborne infrastructure solution to address the sustainability and efficiency of parcel delivery business in large environments.
Airbus Helicopters and National University of Singapore (NUS) has since started on the planning and development of the first phase, making the establishment of a parcel stations network on NUS campus.
NUS had earlier posted on its Facebook that the research test for the future of urban mobility will prove a drone parcel delivery service on the campus in mid-2017; the Airbus Group also posted this in their Facebook.
For the pilot project, Airbus Helicopters is developing an autonomous drone and the overall infrastructure.
It will be based on an operation management system created by Airbus Defence and Space.
The goal of the project is to assess the efficiency and economic effectiveness of such a transport system and provide tangible proof to authorities and the general public that commercial drones can indeed operate safely over urban areas.
Bruno Trabel from Airbus Helicopters stated rightly that flying autonomous vehicles over urban areas is a challenge because no country in the world today allows drones without remote pilots to fly over cities – with or without passengers.
“If we want to resolve this fundamental question, we have to demonstrate the system under real conditions. This view is shared by CAAS,” said Trabel.
Singapore was chosen as the location in the Asian city-state because Airbus Helicopters will be able to develop the project in collaboration with the aviation authority.
If the team is successful in demonstrating the safe operation of Skyways over NUS, it could help shape the regulatory framework for unmanned aircraft system operations in Singapore and may increase approval for passenger flight testing.
If the pilot phase works it will give a boost to urban air vehicle projects and can become the start of commercial projects beginning in Singapore.
The aerial vehicle, with working title of CityAirbus, will resemble a small drone in its basic design, with multiple propellers.
At the start, it will be operated by a pilot – like in a helicopter – to make it possible for quick entry into the market.
Once regulations are in place, directly benefitting from Skyways and Vahana’s contribution, it will switch over to full autonomous operations.
AirBus claims that the feasibility study has already been finished, and the conclusion is promising.
At the moment, those in charge do not wish to reveal any further technical details.Nevertheless, Marius Bebesel, head of helicopter demonstrators at Airbus Helicopters, spoke on how CityAirbus would work in practice:
- Customers will use an app to book a seat on a CityAirbus,
- Then proceed to the nearest helipad, and climb aboard,
- To be whisked away to their destination.
Several passengers will share the aircraft, and this sharing economy principle would make journeys in the CityAirbus affordable.
A flight would cost nearly the equivalent of a normal taxi ride for each passenger, but will be faster, more environmentally manageable and of course, exciting.
However, many questions are yet to be clarified:
- How quiet would such an aerial vehicle be?
- How safe?
- How would the vehicles communicate with each other?
- How can operators ensure that they will not be hacked?
“To answer these questions, we are relying on the expertise and support of the entire Airbus Group,” says Bebesel.
It sounds like science fiction to have a network of flying taxis, but the experts at Airbus Group believe that the vision is already beginning to form.
Airbus Group CEO Tom Enders supported this belief, and he said, “I’m no big fan of Star Wars, but it’s not crazy to imagine that one day our big cities will have flying cars making their way along roads in the sky.”
“In a not too distant future, we’ll use our smartphones to book a fully automated flying taxi that will land outside our front door – without any pilot,” he finished.
If the project is successful, the second phase is planned to cover the delivery of goods like essential medicine, oil samples, and electronic spare parts, send from a parcel station located at the Singapore coast to ships anchored at bay.