Leading manufacturers collaborate on autonomous flying vehicle

Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce and Cranfield University are collaborating on a new concept vehicle which could solve future urban transport problems.

The partners presented their idea for a luxurious flying autonomous hybrid-electric vehicle with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities at the Farnborough International Airshow.

The project is billed as ‘a new concept in personal air mobility for fast, efficient and congestion-free urban and inter-city air travel’.

The project, Volante Vision Concept, takes full advantage of the expertise at Cranfield’s global research airport, coupled with Aston Martin’s signature design and powered by Rolls-Royce hybrid-electric systems.

Cranfield is leading work on the autonomous flight controls, connectivity and security of the aircraft. Digital aviation research at the University will also support how the aircraft fits into the wider transportation ecosystem.

Professor Iain Gray, Director of Aerospace at Cranfield University said: “We’re delighted to be part of this exciting and forward-thinking project that showcases British innovation and the way that Cranfield works with and supports business.

“The Volante Vision Concept exemplifies Cranfield’s unique capabilities in digital aviation, autonomous systems and the electrification of aerospace, and is an excellent example of how the University combines cutting-edge research, academic rigour and real-world application.”

Aston Martin President and CEO Dr Andy Palmer said: “With the population in urban areas continuing to grow, congestion in towns and cities will become increasingly demanding. We need to look at alternative solutions to reduce congestion, cut pollution and improve mobility. Air travel will be a crucial part in the future of transportation. The Volante Vision Concept is the ultimate luxury mobility solution.

“Humans have always spent, on average, one hour commuting to and from work.  The distance we live from our workplace has been determined by the methods of transportation available.

“The Volante Vision Concept will enable us to travel further with our hourly commute, meaning we are able to live further away from where we work. Cities will grow, and towns that are today too far away from cities to be commutable will become suburban.

“With Aston Martin and our ‘dream team’ of British innovation across industry and academia, we are positioned to change the future of transportation, giving our customers a new dimension of freedom.”

Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS) CEO Paul Hutton said the introduction of autonomous and electric propulsion technologies into new aircraft designs was both inevitable and challenging.

“As the UK’s leading aircraft design and production SME we are excited to be playing this key role in the Volante Vision Concept and so to be at the vanguard of this revolution in aerospace,” he said.

Rob Watson, Director, Rolls-Royce Electrical, said: “We are delighted to be involved in the Volante Vision Concept, which showcases the best of British design and engineering.

“Rolls-Royce has already delivered hybrid-electric systems for other applications including ships and trains, and we’re very excited about the potential of the technology in aerospace.

“This is a great opportunity to collaborate on a pioneering project which will use high performance hybrid-electric propulsion technologies for personal air mobility concepts that could transform the future of transportation.”

The next phase of the project will focus on engineering and technical development, with the aim of working towards a full-size flying demonstrator prototype.