The Geneva Motor Show features a lot of amazing concept cars, but one *literally* rises above the rest. The Pop.Up is the result of collaboration between design house Italdesign and aerospace manufacturer Airbus. It is a new concept that blurs the boundary between the VTOL (personal vertical take-off and landing) flying car and the self-driving car. Its detachable passenger cell drives on the ground on top of an electric vehicle chassis and it disconnects from the chassis and takes to the air using a self-piloted multicopter’s rotors. Is this the way travelers will move from place to place in the future?
Italdesign has done a bit of work on the design of autonomous cars while Airbus is building personal computer drones. It is therefore not totally surprising that the Pop.Up concept occupies the middle ground between the two companies’ efforts.
If you overlook the huge drone that hangs over it at the Palexpo in Geneva, the Pop.Up resembles your usual, urban driverless commuter concept. Its electric powertrain (with zero emissions) and glass-heavy design would not look out of place amidst compact commuter cars such as the Toyota I-Tril and Honda NeuV.
However, that multicopter was not built to be ignored, particularly not at a car show full of grounded vehicles. It denotes the Pop.Up concept's special mix of ground/air capabilities, which begins with a matching vehicle-sharing application. When the commuter books a ride, the app gives information about traffic, costs, timing, demand for ride-sharing and much more. It works with the client to design the best route on the ground and in the air between the starting and end points.
The wholly autonomous Pop.Up depends on three hardware components to conclude the road-air journey. The simplified two-seat passenger cell whose dimensions are 8.5 feet long by 4.6 feet high by 4.9 feet wide (or 2.6 x1.4 x1.5 meters) can link to either the electric-engined ground chassis made of carbon fiber or the VTOL air module depending on the desired route (ground or air). Through sharing of information in real-time, the system may even make changes in the middle of the journey, with the multicopter soaring in the air when the ground module is stuck in a traffic jam. This is a dream come true for any person who has ever wasted precious time stuck in heavy traffic.
When the journey ends, the Pop.Up air-ground modules go back to their charging stations to wait for another app-ordered ride. Airbus and Italdesign portray the Pop.Up as a way of solving traffic problems in the megacities of the future. By using the air space over city streets and highways, the Pop.Up assists the user to sweep past congested road arteries and at the same time removes one vehicle from the overstretched roads.
Over and above the basic air and ground modes, Airbus and Italdesign also visualize a Pop.Up-style capsule merging with public transportation. The multicopter could drop the capsule on board a train car, for example, either when the journey is over a longer distance or as a more effective method of commuting locally. Whatever method it uses for the particular trip, the system moves the commuter from one point to another inside a comfortable passenger cell, without having to embark or disembark from different vehicles.
According to Mathias Thomsen, the general manager in charge of urban air mobility at Airbus, incorporating a third dimension to smooth multi-mode transport networks will undoubtedly enhance the way we live and move from one point to another.
The Pop.Up may seem like science fiction by the standards of today but Italdesign and Airbus are convinced that a Pop.Up-style transport system could be achieved in seven to ten years. Naturally, that would involve a lot of work and collaboration with various parties, including regulators.
Thomsen notes that the successful creation and implementation of methods that are workable on the ground and in the air needs a shared reflection on the part of both automotive and aerospace sectors, besides cooperation with local government agencies for infrastructure and regulatory systems.