Audi, Airbus and Italdesign test flying taxi concept consisting of self-driving electric car and passenger UAS



During Drone Week in Amsterdam, Audi, Airbus and Italdesign tested a flying and driving prototype of “Pop.Up Next,” which the companies describe as an “innovative concept for a flying taxi” that combines a self-driving electric car with a passenger UAS.

During the first public test flight, the flight module accurately placed a passenger capsule on the ground module, which then autonomously drove from the test grounds.

The companies say that this concept is still a 1:4 scale model, but they believe that in the near future, a convenient and efficient flying taxi service in large cities—in multi-modal operation, in the air and on the road—could be used by Audi customers, allowing them to enjoy their leisure time, relax, or work, all without having to change vehicles.

“Flying taxis are on the way. We at Audi are convinced of that,” says Dr. Bernd Martens, Audi board member for sourcing and IT, and president of the Audi subsidiary Italdesign.

“More and more people are moving to cities. And more and more people will be mobile thanks to automation.”

​Some of those that could benefit from convenient robot taxis, according to Dr. Martens, include senior citizens, children, and people without a driver’s license.

“If we succeed in making a smart allocation of traffic between roads and airspace, people and cities can benefit in equal measure,” Dr. Martens says.

To get an idea of what an on-demand service like this could be like, Audi, along with Airbus subsidiary Voom, is performing tests in South America. Customers book helicopter flights in Mexico City or Sao Paulo, while an Audi vehicle is prepared for the journey to or from the landing site.

“Services like this help us to understand our customers’ needs better. Because in the future, flying taxis will appeal to a wide range of city dwellers,” Dr. Martens explains. “With Pop.Up Next we are simultaneously exploring the boundaries of what is technically possible. The next step is for a full-size prototype to fly and drive.”

Additionally, Audi is supporting the Urban Air Mobility flying taxi project in Ingolstadt, Germany. Part of a joint project of the European Union in the framework of the marketplace for the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities, this initiative is preparing test operations for a flying taxi at Audi’s site.

The goal of the project is twofold: to show the public the benefits of this new technology, and answer questions about a number of topics, including battery technology, regulation, certification, and infrastructure.