Last year, Airbus unveiled a truly strange concept at the Geneva Motor Show: a mix of car and drone trains with the effervescent name of Pop.Up. But if everything seemed a little mediocre and mediocre then, Pop.Up is back for the show this year with a completely new look courtesy of Audi. I saw him in person here in Geneva, and he is as amazing in reality as in the images.
Nicknamed Pop.Up Next, this year's concept is based on a Smart Car monocoque of the size of two seats, which Airbus calls the passenger capsule. The capsule can travel on a wheel base like a regular car or, with the help of a huge drone module, be hoisted into the air for vertical flight. The modular capsules can also be connected together to form a vehicle similar to a train. According to the designers, Audi is contributing its battery technology and its automation know-how.
Like all good concepts, this is not just about hardware. The team of Italdesign, which collaborated with Audi and Airbus in the creation of the demonstration vehicle that is exhibited in Geneva, explains that the Pop.Up system represents a tripartite vision for the future. One component is an artificial intelligence that "based on its user knowledge, manages the complexity of the trip by offering alternative use scenarios and ensuring an uninterrupted travel experience." The second part is the travel module and its air and ground attachments. And the third one is a user interface that "dialogues with users in a completely virtual environment". Knowing how difficult it is to design and create good software, the level of (over) ambition feels more or less the same in the three parts of Pop.Up Next.
And yet, given the number of prototype passenger drones that we've seen take off in recent months, we're not ready to dismiss anything completely out of control. There's Larry Page's flying car, Uber's air taxi, and Airbus' own Vahana project, all under construction for the promised future, not yet delivered, of the flying cars.
"Pop.Up Next is an ambitious vision that could permanently change our urban life in the future," says Bernd Martens, Audi board member and president of Italdesign. The new version is undoubtedly more elegant than the original, and although the immensity of the four propellers hanging above their heads keeps an air of ridicule, most people passing by look with admiration at the nice device in front of them.
A 49-inch curved screen is your only method of interaction within this Batmobile baby
Pop.up Next is significantly lighter than the first concept, and the cabin has been completely reinvented, with a 49-inch curved screen that extends from the pillar to the pillar. "The interaction between humans and the machine is carried out through voice and face recognition, eye tracking and tactile function," say the designers. Which is really useful, given the total lack of a steering wheel, pedals or any other physical control. However, I am not too opposed to that, since the interior of this compact vehicle is pleasantly spacious, minimalist and cozy for a human being. Maybe I've spent too much time near the supercars in Geneva, but it's refreshing to have a space designed with human comfort as the main consideration.
If you're wondering if this will ever go into production, you're asking the wrong question. Of course not. There is no demand for a vehicle like this, not to mention the complete lack of infrastructure or regulatory permits. The Pop.Up concept is more about exploring the possibilities of the future, especially as battery technology improves, cars become smarter and manufacturers become bolder about the types of designs they choose to produce. And, at least to some extent, it's also about pleasing those fantasies and sketches of childhood that every car designer has hidden in a treasure chest somewhere.