Airbus CityAirbus concept
Artist’s impression of the multi-propeller CityAirbus drone Airbus

Uber isn't the only company with big plans for autonomous cabs. Airbus also plans to start tests of own self-driving fleet in 2017, albeit with one key difference: its vehicles will be able to fly.

The US aeronautics company is developing electric aircraft that passengers would be able to book through a smartphone app and have drone-like vehicles drive them to their destinations. The project, code-named Vehana, plans to have its first vehicles in the air as early as next year.

While this seems like a lofty ambition, Airbus points out that as the second-biggest aeronautics company in the US, it pretty much has everything it needs to make it happen already. In fact, the company has already decided on its vehicle designs and made a start on production, although understandably it's keeping these under wraps for now.

Tom Enders, Airbus Group, said: "It's not crazy to imagine that one day our big cities will have flying cars making their way along roads in the sky. In a not too distant future, we'll use our smartphones to book a fully automated flying taxi that will land outside our front door – without any pilot."

As well as individual passenger transport, Airbus is working on a propeller-powered aircraft called CityAirbus, pictured above, that would operate as a vehicle-sharing service. The helicopter-style craft would take off from hubs located around metropolitan areas and would be capable of carrying multiple passengers at once, with commuters again able to book seats via a smartphone app.

A flight would cost roughly the same as a ride in a regular taxi, but would be "faster, more environmentally sustainable and exciting," according to Airbus. The vehicles would be operated by a human pilot at first to ensure it could enter the market quickly, before being made fully autonomous once regulations catch up.

Uber of the skies?

The entire concept forms part of Airbus' "zenAirCity" concept, which envisions a network of autonomous airborne transport services operating in metropolitan areas and anchored by the so-called zenHop smartphone app - think an Uber of the skies.

Airbus would operate a separate "zenLuggage" service that would be used to transport passenger's bags, presumably as space on board the craft would be limited. The entire system would be overseen by a specialist security service, zenCyber, whose main duty would be to keep the service safe from hackers.

A3 project executive Rodin Lyasoff said: "We believe that global demand for this category of aircraft can support fleets of millions of vehicles worldwide. In as little as ten years, we could have products on the market that revolutionise urban travel for millions of people."