Paris Air Show: Self-flying cars

By | 2 minute read | June 21, 2017

leadspace image for autonomous airplanes

The biennial Paris Air Show kicked off on Monday, and it looks like we can expect quite a showing from lady IoT in all her aerial finery before the week is out. Aside from the contest for sales numbers from Airbus and Boeing, there’s plenty else to see from these two big players, and the smaller ones too, in the way of flying cars, passenger-carrying drones and autonomous vehicles. Here’s a whistle-stop tour of what awaits us.

A new level of autopilot

While a commercially acceptable, fully autonomous aircraft is some way off – and it will encounter implementation barriers around regulation and certification even once the technology is really stable – the building blocks are certainly in place. Autopilot facilities within commercial aircraft are already well up to handling take-off, landing and cruise, and various players at the Air Show are taking things to the next level: with aerial vehicles that can operate autonomously, but with the option for pilot control.

The big names are enthusiastically climbing aboard this self-flying phenomenon. A week before the Paris Air Show, Boeing announced its commitment to study autonomous flying technologies. Airbus, meanwhile, is trialing its VSR700 Optionally Piloted Vehicle (OPV), which had its debut flight on June 19th. Developed in partnership with Airbus Helicopters and Helicopteres Guimbal, the VSR700 is designed to be a cost-effective answer to unmanned aerial surveillance.

In the drones’ corner is the SureFly, a ‘personal helicopter / VTOL aircraft’ designed for commercial transport, emergency first responders and military use over short distances. The SureFly, which comes from Workhorse Group Inc., is a hybrid-electric craft able to transport its cargo up to 70 miles. While pilot-operated at present, a fully autonomous incarnation is hotly anticipated.

Self-flying tech: paving the way for flying cars?

The implication of safe, stable and reliable self-flying technology is that, ultimately, there’s no reason why Joe Bloggs of Ordinary Street, USA, shouldn’t pilot his own aerial vehicle to work. As is apparent from the Paris Air Show’s offerings this year, the flying car concept has gained surprising clout in recent months, as various well-known contenders rush to be the first to market their personal aircraft.

One early concept offering comes from Neva Aerospace, whose AirQuadOne passenger vehicle will have a range of 25 miles and weigh just 1,000 pounds. It doesn’t exist in physical form yet, but the video created to show off its features is fairly persuasive:

Here again, Airbus has a finger in the pie, releasing an ambitious hybrid car and drone concept called Pop.Up at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year. The vehicle will be used both on the ground and in the air – like a modern (and far sexier) Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Kitty Hawk, backed by Google co-founder Larry Page is also throwing its hat into the ring with the Flyer – a prototype, ultralight aircraft weighing just 220 pounds. This craft is designed to fly over water only, but it does set a precedent for further exploration along this vein. And, to do it justice, it looks like a lot of fun:

More from the Paris Air Show

For more in-depth coverage of IoT in the Paris Air Show, you might be interested in this blog by Christopher Rospenda, about data capture, transmission and analysis from aerial vehicles.