What's Edgier Than a Flying Robocar?

The original 1982 ItalDesign Capsula concept car, a strange dark grey car
Photo: Italdesign
The original 1982 ItalDesign Capsula concept

The only thing edgier than a flying robocar is half a flying robocar. That’s the concept that Italdesign and Airbus are to unveil this week at the Geneva Auto Show.

Yes, yes, you’re thinking that now you’ve seen everything. Except that you haven’t seen it yet. As for us here at IEEE Spectrum, we’ll believe it when we see it. 

And, no, this flying car has nothing to do with that other Airbus flying-vehicle project, the Vahana autonomous air taxi. That’s the one being developed by A3, the airplane manufacturer’s Silicon Valley subsidiary. As our recent posts attest, we aren’t too enthralled with Vahana, nor with the Ehang air taxi that’s being readied for use in Dubai.

The Italdesign-Airbus concept would assign the flying job not to the vehicle itself but to a large drone—one measuring some 5 meters by 5 meters, according to Automotive News. When you’re mired in traffic, you’d just call on that pterodactyl, which would come and swoop down, grab the upper half of the robocar and waft it and you away. Only the upper half—the passenger cab—gets lifted: the bottom half—the drivetrain and wheels—stays put, inching its way through traffic, and eventually finding its way home.

This concept is just another application of the layer-cake design of the Capsula, a 1982 thought experiment by Italdesign. The bottom layer carries the automotive guts—chassis, engine, brakes, wheels, even the spare wheel—leaving space on top for different “capsules”. Depending on the capsule you choose, you could get a sedan, light truck, police car, ambulance, or any other vehicle.

And to what destination, pray tell, would the big drone carry you? Maybe you’d choose from among many spare bottom halves predeployed all around your city. Then the drone drops you and the upper layer onto one. Presto! You’re a car again.

And if your newly assembled layer cake of a car gets stuck in traffic, you could call on the drone to rescue you yet again. So could all the other people, until at last the road network got so chockablock with aimlessly moving bottom halves that there’d be no choice but to get airborne and stay that way.

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