A new twist on the continually burning vapourware topic of flying cars proposes a system whereby drones swoop in to ‘rescue’ passengers trapped in traffic jams, with the human-bearing part of the vehicle disconnecting from a wheeled base unit which simply plods on until it is ready to accommodate another ‘stranded’ passenger.

The bizarre concept by Airbus and Italdesign is to be unveiled this week at the Geneva Auto Show. Many have noted the scheme appears to be revisiting one of Italdesign’s more imaginative flights of fancy from 1982, which featured modular passenger sections which could be attached to diverse base units to form different types of vehicle.

The 1982 Capsula concept employed a putative chassis and base system to formulate an effective ‘Lego’ approach to vehicle production, eschewing the proprietary curves and distinctions which, as it turned out, were not to fall out of fashion much in the following three decades:

capsula

Beyond the base configuration, little is known about the new collaborative proposal – except that logic dictates a drone of quite extraordinary lifting power, no matter how lightweight the chassis materials.

The idea behind the new system is that base units will be in itinerant circulation, and any passenger airlifted out of a bad jam would need to accept whatever base units are available within a flyable distance, or else wait out the congestion.

The news comes just as traffic planners are wrestling with the problems that traffic-eluding driving apps such as Waze are increasingly generating in residential areas of cities.

In December of last year the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved a test program for the TF-X flying car, an electrically powered vehicle designed to travel to a maximum distance of 500 miles on a single charge. Last month ride-sharing giant Uber engaged a NASA engineer to advance its own vision of unmanned flying taxis.

Anyone who has ever been mean-spirited enough to abandon – or attempt to abandon – a taxi stuck in a jam will sympathise with possible technologies which allow drivers and passengers to bail out of terminal congestion. Ironically, early scripts for Blade Runner, the 1982 movie adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s seminal sci-fi novel ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?’, still perhaps the strongest vision for flying cars in popular culture, featured a traffic system of automated Zip-car style vehicles which could be abandoned in traffic as necessary – and which, like the new Airbus/Italdesign concept, would simply make their own arrangements until traffic eased and new customers entered.