The Geneva Motor Show has plenty of awe-inspiring concept cars, but one in particular rises above the rest ... quite literally. The fruits of a collaboration between aerospace manufacturer Airbus and design house Italdesign, the new Pop.Up concept blurs the line between the self-driving car and the VTOL flying car. Its removable passenger cell rides on the ground atop an electric vehicle chassis and decouples from that chassis to fly through the air below the whirring rotors of a self-piloted multicopter. Is this how commuters of the future will get from place to place?
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If you ignore the massive drone hanging above it at Geneva's Palexpo, the Pop.Up looks like your typical tiny, autonomous urban commuter concept. Its zero emissions electric powertrain and glass-heavy styling feel quite at home amongst other compact commuter show cars, like the Honda NeuV and Toyota I-Tril.
But that multicopter wasn't designed to be ignored, especially not at an auto show filled with grounded vehicles. It signifies the Pop.Up concept's unique blend of air-ground capabilities, which starts with an accompanying vehicle-sharing app. As the traveler books a ride, the app presents information about timing, costs, traffic, ride-sharing demand and more, working with the customer to create the ideal route over the ground and through the air between beginning and end points.
The completely autonomous Pop.Up relies on three pieces of hardware to complete the road-air journey. The simple, two-seat 8.5 x 4.6 x 4.9-ft (2.6 x 1.4 x 1.5-m, L x H x W) passenger cell can couple to either the electric motor-driven, carbon fiber ground chassis or the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) air module, depending upon whether a ground or air route is preferable. With real-time information sharing, the system could even make changes mid-route, swooping in with the multicopter after heavy traffic leaves the ground module stuck in a traffic jam – a dream of literally everyone who's ever spent precious minutes in a bumper-to-bumper backup.
At the end of the journey, the Pop.Up air/ground modules return to their charging stations and await the next app-ordered ride.
Italdesign and Airbus present the Pop.Up as a way of alleviating traffic problems in future megacities. By utilizing air space above highways and city streets, the Pop.Up helps users breeze past congested arteries while also pulling a vehicle off those overburdened roads.
Beyond just basic ground and air modes, Italdesign and Airbus also imagine a Pop.Up-style capsule integrating with public transportation. The copter could drop the capsule aboard a train car, for instance, either as a more efficient means of local commuting or for a longer distance journey. Whatever means it uses for the specific trip, the system gets the passenger from Point A to Point B inside a single comfy passenger cell, without the need to board or de-board separate vehicles.
"Adding the third dimension to seamless multi-modal transportation networks will without a doubt improve the way we live and how we get from A to B," said Mathias Thomsen, Airbus general manager for urban air mobility.
The Pop.Up might look like complete science fiction by today's standards, but Airbus and Italdesign believe a Pop.Up-like transportation system could be realized within seven to 10 years. Of course, that would entail a lot of work and cooperation from many parties, including regulators.
"Successfully designing and implementing solutions that will work both in the air and on the ground requires a joint reflection on the part of both aerospace and automotive sectors, alongside collaboration with local government bodies for infrastructure and regulatory frameworks," Thomsen recognizes.
For now, it's just a concept ... but a pretty damn cool one. Watch the video for a vision of how the concept would work shuttling folks around the city and check out more Geneva photos in our gallery.