Ray Hartley Editor: BusinessLIVE
Picture: SUPPLIED
Picture: SUPPLIED

By the end of this year, the ultimate urban commuter fantasy will be up and flying, if the Airbus Group and a Chinese competitor are to be believed.

That’s right, the flying car — a favourite of the Popular Mechanics cover illustration for decades — will be constructed and tested, say the aircraft manufacturers.

China’s Ehang drone maker is developing an unmanned prototype, the Ehang 184. It’s essentially a quadcopter drone that can carry 120kg for about 30km. It hasn’t yet carried a person.

Airbus is exploring, says news agency Reuters, "concepts such as a vehicle to transport individuals or a helicopter-style vehicle that can carry multiple riders".

The idea is that passengers book rides using an "Uber-esque" app, like a lift-scheme in the sky.

"One hundred years ago, urban transport went underground. Now we have the technological wherewithal to go above ground," the article quotes Airbus CEO Tom Enders as saying.

The really big news is that the company says it can get a "demonstration vehicle for single-person transport" flying by the end of this year.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what is going on here. The rapid development of intelligent, driverless vehicles is converging with the demand for quick but affordable means of dodging congested roads.

Of course "affordable" is a relative term. These vehicles will have to have vertical take-off ability as well as a vast supporting infrastructure of landing and refuelling areas.

They are unlikely to be carbon-friendly. And there are likely to be regulatory issues as transport authorities ponder the wisdom of opening the airspace to hungover executives who are late for meetings.

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