A live demonstration of a parcel delivery drone will take place today in Singapore. Airbus Helicopters will show how the Project Skyways UAV can hover while picking up a parcel, and then set off to make the delivery. The demo will take place on the National University of Singapore (NUS) campus. Another example of the Skyways drone can be found on the Airbus stand here at the show.
Project Skyways is one of four urban air mobility initiatives that Airbus is pursuing. The second is CityAirbus, a multi-passenger, self-piloted battery-powered VTOL vehicle being developed by the company’s E-Aircraft Systems unit in Europe. The third is Project Vahana, another VTOL passenger transport being pursued by A3, the Airbus outpost in Silicon Valley, California that is also known as A-Cubed. The fourth is an exploration of 10 relevant technologies being conducted from Shenzhen in China by Airbus and HAX, an early-stage investor in hardware start-up companies.
In Singapore, Airbus (Stand J23, Chalet CD17) has partnered with Singapore Post (SingPost) and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS, Chalet CS12, Stand A01). The aim is to develop a safe and economically viable unmanned parcel delivery system for use in urban environments. SingPost is bringing expertise in eCommerce logistics and delivery networks. “Our trial will involve SingPost’s parcel locker technology…and our long term plans…that involve drones and the vertical dimension,” said SingPost group CFO and deputy group CEO (corporate services) Mervyn Lim.
In Europe, meanwhile, the CityAirbus demonstrator is progressing toward a first flight by the end of this year. It is an all-electric machine with 100 kW Siemens motors and four ducted propellers, that can carry up to four passengers over congested cities “in a fast, affordable and environmentally friendly way,” according to Airbus Helicopters. The propulsion system is now being tested at the company’s ground facility at Taufkirchen, Germany.
Airbus told AIN that the first flights of the CityAirbus will be unmanned and include automatic takeoff and landing and flying along predefined routes. A ground-based pilot will be able to take control if necessary. Fully autonomous flight will be demonstrated later in the program.
Meanwhile, the first flight of the Vahana electric VTOL aircraft occurred a week ago at a UAS range in Pendleton, Oregon. It lasted 53 seconds and the machine rose 16 feet before descending safely. “In just under two years, Vahana took a concept sketch on a napkin and built a full-scale, self-piloted aircraft,” said Zach Lovering, the project executive for A3. “It proves that we can deliver meaningful innovation…to provide a real competitive advantage for Airbus,” added Rodin Lyasoff, CEO of A3.
A-Cubed is the company that Airbus chief Tom Enders set up in May 2015 to tap new technology and innovation in the U.S. He appointed former MIT, DARPA and Google employee Paul Eremenko as the first CEO. Lyasoff, a fellow tech pioneer and drone specialist, joined him. Within a year, Enders had moved Eremenko to Europe as the chief technology officer for Airbus, a move that caused some controversy and internal dissent with Airbus. Lyasoff became the head of A-Cubed. Late last year, Eremenko departed Airbus and returned to the U.S. as chief technology officer for United Technologies.
Although the CityAirbus and Vahana projects appear to be duplicative, Airbus told AIN that they are complementary, and that regular exchanges have taken place between the two engineering teams.
Airbus also told AIN that discussions have taken place with a number of cities, including Singapore, that have expressed their interest in innovative, electrically-powered VTOL systems.