Category: flying cars

PAL-V Just Announced Plans to Travel Around the World in a Flying Car

Pioneering a New Field

Welcome to the new frontier in advanced transportation. In an exclusive interview with Futurism at World’s Fair Nano this weekend, Mark Jennings-Bates, the vice president of sales at PAL-V International B.V., unveiled his plans to become the first person to circumnavigate the globe in a flying car.

As Jenning-Bates told Futurism, he hopes the voyage will start in San Francisco and then (as it is customary in circumnavigation) arrive back somewhere around San Fran. While Jennings-Bates will be piloting his own flying car, another pilot will be accompanying him in a second. Since PAL-V intends to film the trek, they expect it to take about 90 days, though Jennings-Bates believes it could be done in around 60.

The greatest stress poised by this voyage will be keeping an eye on the fuel gauge. PAL-V’s vehicle, called the Liberty, has a range of 1,315 km (817 mi) in driving mode and 499 km (310 mi) when flying. These limits have already been pushed by Bate’s accompanying pilot over a particularly difficult stretch of Greenland — one that the flying car should have just enough gas to manage. But only just.

The pilot told Jennings-Bates that this part of the trek — what with the need for constant, stressful fuel calculations — is “the most nerve-wracking experience you’ll ever have.”

While PAL-V has not yet made an official announcement on a target date for this feat, the trips plans are well underway.

The Vehicle That Could Launch an Industry

PAL-V is a Dutch company that was conceived in 2001 with the goal of engineering a road-friendly aircraft. The PAL-V team tore through a number of designs before they finally made a breakthrough in 2005.

“We’ve really just innovated two older products, put them together, and created something new that works within today’s rules,” Jennings-Bates said.

At this point, a technology called “DVC tilting” was finally able to enable safe driving, while at the same time allowing the vehicle to maintain a high center of gravity and narrow aerodynamic shape necessary for flying. PAL-V married this with a Gyroplane (a precursor to helicopter), which was selected because it’s simple, safe to learn to fly, and folds up nicely. Combing these two techs allowed the engineers to make vehicle that is both road and sky safe.

The concept was tested in 2012 with PAL-V’s first flight of the flying car prototype in 2012 — which was a success. From there, PAL-V developed the commercial version and launched production. Today, the PAL-V Liberty is available for preorder (at a cost of between $399,000 and $599,000) with expected delivery times starting as soon as 2018.

Bringing Flying Cars to Everyone

And it is this aspect — the marketability of flying cars — that Jennings-Bates sees as a major challenge to the industry. “We’ve seen cars fly a few times, but nobody’s sold very many of them,” Jennings-Bates said.

PAL-V is attempting to overcome this challenge by holding fast to two guiding principles — to make a vehicle that is safe and relatively easy to learn to operate. “Whilst it looks like a helicopter, it’s actually much more simple than a helicopter,” Jennings-Bates said. “If you talk to a gyroplane instructor, they’ll often tell you they have students who can fly solo in 5-8 hours of training.”

In addition to the PAL-V training those looking to buy a Liberty will undergo, they would also need both a driver’s and pilot’s license. Those are just the requirements under current laws — which were, admittedly, not exactly designed with flying cars in mind.

“That’s always been the missing piece of the puzzle,” Jennings-Bates said, regarding legislation. “How do we get it certified to be able to use it?” PAL-V has achieved their success in this area by designing from the ground-up, which meant they could design in accordance with regulations, thereby streamlining the process.

However, much more could be done to clarify standards for both those who design flying cars and those who operate them. And, with the increase visibility of this technology that a global circumnavigation could bring, perhaps governments will be spurred to make the necessary regulatory updates to allow flying cars to revolutionize our commutes.

The post PAL-V Just Announced Plans to Travel Around the World in a Flying Car appeared first on Futurism.

Flying-car Company Aims to Make On-Demand Air Taxis Happen by 2025

Flying Cars

This past April, German company Lilium Aviation enjoyed a successful flight test of its full-scale prototype flying car. Now, the company behind this vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft has made more significant progress in building the business as this technology develops. Specifically, Lilium has hired two new executives who will focus on scaling the business as it advances successful commercial applications for its VTOL planes and on-demand air taxis.

Image Credit: Lilium
Image Credit: Lilium

Executive Remo Gerber will serve as Lilium’s chief commercial officer. Gerber has experience both in physics and managing a ride-hail business. It is this latter experience that he might be calling on more in his new role, as he will be instrumental to the success of Lilium’s long-term plan to become the flying version of Uber by creating an on-demand network of VTOL jets. The jets would take off and land from pads throughout cities where passengers could hail rides. In true startup style, Gerber will also be wearing the CFO/COO hat and managing finances and investor relations. Gerber told Recode that Lilium is “laser focused” on bringing its VTOL jets to market and the business is already starting to collaborate with regulators and commercial partners.

Ready To Transform Transportation

Lilium may not be the only company on the market with a dream of making this kind flying car service a reality. It is competing against the likes of Larry Page-backed Kitty Hawk and Uber. However, Lilium has the distinct advantage of a proven business concept and $11.4 million raised in venture capital.

Image Credit: Lilium
Image Credit: Lilium

Lilium plans to manufacture its aircraft in-house, which brings us to the other new executive: Dirk Gebser, who will serve as VP of production. Previously, Gebser served as VP of assembly at Airbus for two models and was also the director of manufacturing engineering at Rolls-Royce. At Lilium, Gebser will be lending his experience to the company as it strives to meet its 2019 deadline for launching its first crewed flight. Meanwhile, Uber hopes to demonstrate the abilities of its flying cars in Texas and Dubai by 2020. As more and more new modes of transportation come to market, we can expect to see a lot of progress in the field of flying cars.

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DeLorean Aerospace Is Working on a Flying Car With a Range of 120 Miles

Paging Doc Brown

DeLorean cars have become a staple of ’80s pop culture thanks to their starring role in Robert Zemeckis’s iconic Back to the Future trilogy. Now, a new generation of the DeLorean family is looking to put the brand back into the spotlight by giving new meaning to a line kooky inventor Doc Brown delivers at the end of the first film: “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

Flying Cars: A Future Buyer’s Guide [Infographic]
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In a recent Wired profile, Paul DeLorean, nephew of the original carmaker and current CEO and chief designer of DeLorean Aerospace, revealed that his company is joining the likes of Uber, Airbus, Kitty Hawk, and a few others in attempting to build a flying car.

DeLorean says the company is working on a two-seat, vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicle meant for personal transport and that will eventually be capable of autonomous flight. “We are moving forward on a full-size, piloted prototype which will carry two passengers and is designed to operate, fully electric, for a range of  [193 kilometers (120 miles)],” he explained to Wired.

Other flying cars in development are only expected to have ranges of around 40 to 80 kilometers (25 to 50 miles), so DeLorean’s target is well above the norm.

Image credit: DeLorean Aerospace
Image credit: DeLorean Aerospace

As for design specifics, the DeLorean DR-7 aircraft sports two sets of wings, one at the vehicle’s front and the other at its back, with another pair of winglets under the hind wings. The vehicle’s takeoff and forward propulsion rely on a pair of fans, which are powered by electricity and mounted along its center. The fans swivel after takeoff to push the vehicle forward.

In all, the aircraft is about 6 meters (20 feet) long, with a wingspan of about 5.6 meters (18.5 feet). To help the aircraft fit into a (large) garage, the wings are capable of folding against the vehicle’s sides.

Regulating the Skies

Whether they be of the self-driving or flying variety, the cars of the future need to surmount regulatory hurdles before we’ll see any kind of widespread adoption. The use of traditional vehicles and aircraft is currently regulated by numerous laws, and the advanced capabilities of autonomous or flying vehicles are presenting lawmakers with a slew of unprecedented questions.

Along with the need to upgrade our laws to govern this next step in the evolution of personal transport, we also need to upgrade our infrastructure. Electricity is emerging as the energy source of choice for this next generation of vehicles, yet much of the world lacks the infrastructure necessary to meet the refueling needs of a fleet of electric vehicles (EVs).

We still have some time to wait before we can hope to see these flying vehicles in action, as experts don’t expect the first models to be ready for another five to 15 years, but we are well on our way to a future in which roads won’t be the only places we see cars.

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Dubai Just Moved One Step Closer to Launching Its Flying Taxi Service

Investing Big

In February, Dubai, a city known for its active pursuit of all things futuristic, revealed plans to partner with German startup Volocopter on a flying taxi service. The city then updated the timeline for those plans in June, and now, it has moved one step closer to implementing them thanks to a €25 million (roughly $29.5 million) investment in Volocopter by Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler AG, Berlin tech investor Lukasz Gadowski, and a few others.

“The strong financial commitment of our new investors is a signal as well as proof of the growing confidence in the newly emerging market for electrically driven [vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicles] put to use as personal air taxis,” Florian Reuter, Volocopter managing director, said in a press release announcing the new round of funding.

flying cars vtol volocopter autonomous aerial taxis
Image Credit: Volocopter

The startup has been working on a flying car for some seven years now, and the Volocopter 2X, a two-seater VTOL vehicle powered by electricity and capable of autonomous flight, is their second-generation vehicle.

flying cars vtol volocopter autonomous aerial taxis
Image Credit: Volocopter

Volocopter’s AAT would work like most ride-hailing services — a passenger would be able to summon the service on demand and then be ferried to their destination. The company will work closely with Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) during a five-year testing period for this autonomous aerial taxi (AAT), which is set to begin by the fourth quarter of 2017.

flying cars vtol volocopter autonomous aerial taxis
Image Credit: Volocopter

Changing Urban Transportation

The benefits of a flying car or a flying taxi service seem obvious enough. For one, you’d avoid the usual traffic congestion of busy urban centers. Secondly, Volocopter 2X is safe and quiet, thanks to the 18 rotors that lift it off the ground.

flying cars vtol volocopter autonomous aerial taxis
Image Credit: Volocopter

According to the company, it won’t require heavy infrastructure support, either. “One moment, it is the replacement for a bridge that is being repaired, the other moment it is an air taxi used as a shuttle to a trade fair,” they explain on their website. This would effectively eliminate the typical concerns regarding the use of VTOLs in cities, such as the ones Elon Musk previously raised.

flying cars vtol volocopter autonomous aerial taxis
Image Credit: Volocopter

Volocopter isn’t the only company working on a flying car or an AAT. Uber has had plans for a flying vehicle and an aerial taxi service in the works for a while now, and a number of both established companies and smaller startups have their own designs for such vehicles, increasing the odds that flying cars will have a place in the future of transportation.


Disclosure: The Dubai Future Foundation works in collaboration with Futurism as a sponsor and does not hold a seat on our editorial board.

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Toyota Is Eager to Bring a Flying Car to the 2020 Olympics

Toyota is amping up the race to make flying cars the vehicles of the future. Japan’s largest automobile company has invested nearly $400,000 in Cartivator Resource Management to develop a flying car for a very special purpose. Toyota is hoping that this single driver vehicle will be ready by 2020, in time to deliver the Olympic torch along its final stretch to open the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

A video was recently released showing an initial prototype being tested. These results, however, are less than spectacular, even with the interesting cinematography.

Toyota has also recently made headlines in acknowledging that their partnership with Elon Musk’s Tesla had come to a close at the end of last year. The automobile giant has since advanced their own electric car division to compete with Tesla’s popular line.

The team working on the flying car will use Toyota’s investment to improve the design of the vehicle. With these improvements, they hope that a prototype will be ready to be piloted sometime in 2019.

Their work with Cartivator is markedly more low-key than previous flying car concepts from Toyota. They introduced a futuristic concept car called the Concept-i at the most recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES). This concept had a lot more bells and whistles like an emotion reading artificial intelligence named “Yui.”

It is unclear at this point if either car will take off. Perhaps Toyota can give the flying car one last fighting chance to step out of the pages of science fiction and into reality.

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Toyota Severs Ties With Tesla, Launches Their Own Electric Car Division

Toyota officially ended its relationship with Elon Musk’s Tesla by selling off its remaining shares of the company by the end of last year. The Japanese automaking company began with a $50 million investment for a three percent stake in the company.

In a statement, Toyota spokesman Ryo Sakai said, via Reuters, “Our development partnership with Tesla ended a while ago, and since there has not been any new developments on that front, we decided it was time to sell the remaining stake.” Interestingly, late last year, Toyota formed an electric car division of its own. So, it looks like Japan’s biggest automobile company is looking to compete for Tesla’s market share.

News from the BBC points to Toyota investing in Cartivator to develop a flying car. The startup has been crowdfunding their vehicle, the Skydrive, which has projected speeds of about 100 km/h (62 mph) and the ability to fly 10 meters (33 feet) off the ground.

Credit: CartivationCredit: Cartivation

This move directly opposes previous statements made by Elon Musk regarding flying cars. In an interview with Bloomberg earlier this year he said, “Obviously, I like flying things. But it’s difficult to imagine the flying car becoming a scalable solution.”

Electric cars have quickly become the clear front runner in the future of personal transportation. Still, it is exciting to see that flying cars may not altogether be DOA.

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Another Google Co-Founder Is Building a Secret Aircraft

While Larry Page was busy bringing his “flying car” to reality, another Google co-founder, Sergey Brin, was apparently on a similar path, trying to create a vehicle that will take to the skies as well.

However, unlike Page’s land/air hybrid vehicle, the Kitty Hawk Flyer, which could be introduced into the market as early as this year, Brin’s project is a giant airship resembling a zeppelin that’s currently housed at the NASA Ames Research Center. According to a report by Bloomberg, the project was spurred after Brin saw old photos of the USS Macon, an old airship built by the US Navy.

This particular prototype could have been created as part of a potential business venture — which would be timely, given that we’re at the cusp of airborne vehicles and flying taxi fleets becoming a reality. Or, it could be simply a passion project for Brin, who apparently has a long-standing fascination with airships. We just don’t know yet.

News of this project has piqued the curiosity of many. New airship technology could potentially help cut delivery and transport costs, given that it can accommodate massive amounts of cargo and be more fuel efficient. But whatever his intentions are for this project, Brin certainly has a few experienced friends he can tap for advice.

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A Flying Taxi Service Will Soar Through the Skies by 2018

Flying to the Future

Who doesn’t love flying cars? Almost every science-fiction flick that’s set in the future features flying vehicles, which shows just how much people want flying cars.

Flying Cars: A Future Buyer’s Guide [Infographic]
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Fortunately, the wait for these futuristic vehicles may soon be over, thanks to companies like German startup E-volo. The company has been working on a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft since 2011. Now, it is confident that it can bring its VTOL into a commercial setting.

E-volo’s latest multicopter, the Volocopter 2X, is its ticket into this future. The electric aircraft is designed for two passengers and can take off using a simple joystick. Its 18 rotors allow the Volocopter to fly very, very silently.

All images courtesy of E-volo.
All images courtesy of E-volo.

Specs-wise, the Volocopter can reach top speeds of roughly 100 kph (62 mph), but only for a limited amount of time and across not-so-long distances. This VTOL comes with nine batteries — it’s electric and clean — that give it enough power to fly at a cruising speed of 69 kph (43 mph) for a good 17 minutes.

The Future of Transportation

E-volo plans to try out a flying taxi service with the Volocopter 2X by 2018. For this first planned taxi flight, the VTOL will be manned by a pilot. However, E-volo has put sensors in the Volocopter that could allow it to eventually fly autonomously.

E-volo also plans to get international approval in the near future to fly the Volocopter in the rest of Europe and in the United States. For now, this VTOL has been classified in Germany as an ultralight aircraft. In principle, anyone with a license as a sport-pilot in Germany would be able to fly the Volocopter.

E-volo isn’t the only company working on flying cars, VTOLs, or a flying taxi service. Popular ridesharing company Uber has been working on one, too. Big companies and startups alike have been testing their own flying vehicles: there’s industry veteran Airbus, Larry Page’s Zee.Aero, and a Chinese startup called Ehang. More options should make the tech increasingly more affordable.

Apart from Elon Musk, most people seem convinced that flying cars are the future of transportation, and it may be a future we reach sooner than you think.

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This Is Flight in the World of Tomorrow

Vision of the Future

A sleek new helicopter design was unveiled by Bell Helicopter at the Heli-Expo in Dallas, Texas.

Called the FCX-001, the next-generation machine will be built from sustainable materials and run on a hybrid power system. It will come equipped with augmented reality (AR), an artificial intelligence (AI) co-pilot, and rotor blades that morph depending on flight conditions.

Image Credit: Bell Helicopter

An anti-torque system improves the helicopter’s safety, reduces noise, and increases performance, while a hybrid propulsion system with a thermal engine core for primary power will help give better control and simplify maintenance.

Regardless of operational conditions, thanks to its augmented reality system supported by AI, the FCX-001 will be capable of controlling itself singlehandedly. This kind of technology allows the usual Multi Function Display to be replaced, thus allowing the aircraft to be supervised by one pilot with the the AI in the co-pilot role. This key feature is a logical step towards achieving fully autonomous vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft.

Built with advanced sustainable materials, the aircraft can basically be configured to customer’s needs. The modular cabin can also take advantage of the aircraft’s AR capabilities and provide a tailored infotainment experience for each passenger.

Unmanned and Autonomous

“Being a pioneer in the aircraft industry is in our DNA and we want to share this renewed passion with the world. The FCX-001 points the way for our future – a renewed focus on innovative solutions and technologies. When the time is right we look forward to sharing more of what we’re doing behind closed doors,” says President and CEO of Bell Helicopter, Mitch Snyder.

If the numerous concepts introduced for VTOL aircraft are anything to go by, the future of flight will definitely be unmanned and autonomous.

Joining Bell Helicopter’s efforts to put such innovative vehicles in the sky are Uber, which seeks to provide a cost-effective and efficient ridesharing service in the sky; Dubai, which is already in the midst of testing hover-taxis as a way to manage traffic congestion on their highways; and Ehang, the company behind the world’s first autonomous drone for humans that intends to use their technology to automate organ delivery.

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Airbus’ New Futuristic Cars Fly, but Not in the Way You Expect

According to reports, aircraft manufacturing company Airbus is prepping to reveal a futuristic new car design. While they recently debuted a concept for a flying car, with this new design they take a slightly different approach to travel.

*3* Revealed: Car that can be Lifted by a Drone
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Airbus’ new vehicle will be capable of being airlifted by a drone in cases of heavy traffic. The drone, which measures 5 meters (16 feet) wide according to Automotive News‘ sources, would provide air-lifting services for these specially designed vehicles. Italdesign, a design and engineering company, worked with Airbus on the cars, which are expected to be officially revealed at the Geneva Auto Show that begins on March 9.

Many innovators are currently trying to find solutions to widespread traffic issues, but this design would be a first of its kind. Elon Musk is convinced that drilling tunnels underneath Los Angeles could be the answer to that city’s traffic problems, while others, including Airbus, continue to explore the possibility of flying cars.

While this idea seems strange and even potentially dangerous, it will certainly be interesting to see what Airbus’ design is capable of. Who knows? It could be the next big thing in transportation.

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Elon Musk: Flying Cars Are Definitely Not the Future of Transport

Not a Scalable Solution

As far as the future of our roadways is concerned, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO isn’t placing his bets on flying cars. For someone who’s into bold and disruptive technology, Elon Musk’s stance on flying cars appears to be a contradiction — more so since his proposed solution to congested traffic seems crazier. “Obviously, I like flying things,” Musk told Bloomberg’s Max Chafkin. “But it’s difficult to imagine the flying car becoming a scalable solution.”

A future with flying cars has long been the subject of science fiction . That’s why, a number of companies are hard at work trying to make it a reality. Among these, aerospace giant Airbus seems to be taking the lead, and they want their autonomous flying vehicles in the skies (and on the roads) by the end of this year. Google co-founder Larry Page is also working on his own flying car with the elusive startup Zee.Aero. Even the concept of drone-like cars is being explored.

Even Uber wants its own fleet of flying cars, leveraging on vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) technology, and they already have plans that include the infrastructure needed to make it work.

This is close to flying a Tesla could get. Image credit: Tesla
Image Credit: Tesla

Firmly on the Ground

Despite all this development, Musk is convinced that flying cars won’t ease traffic on the ground, and he may have a point. Especially since a lot of flying car models are opting for VTOL versions, they won’t really be cars, in the strictest sense. Additionally, other models in development still need runway-like space to take off.

CLICK TO VIEW FULL INFOGRAPHIC
CLICK TO VIEW FULL INFOGRAPHIC

For Musk, Silicon Valley’s obsession with flying cars won’t be great for city travel. Flying cars, he explained, would need to generate considerable downward force to keep them flying. That translates to a lot of noise and wind for those on the ground. There’s also the probability of debris falling in the case of mid-air fender-benders. “If somebody doesn’t maintain their flying car, it could drop a hubcap and guillotine you,” he said. “Your anxiety level will not decrease as a result of things that weigh a lot buzzing around your head.”

And Musk would rather keep his head, thank you very much, even if it means boring a whole underground.

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The World’s First Flying Taxis Will Take to the Skies in Five Months

We’re a lot closer to flying cars that we think. In fact, Dubai has already begun testing a prototype of a self-driving hover-taxi with the hope of launching an aerial shuttle service by July.

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“The autonomous aerial vehicle exhibited at the World Government Summit is not just a model. We have already experimented (with) the vehicle in a flight in (the) Dubai sky. RTA will spare no effort to launch the AAV in July 2017,” shares director general of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) Mattar Al-Tayer.

To avail of the taxi service, passengers will simply select a destination before they board the vehicle with the help of a ground control center. The EHang 184 quadcopter can travel on a programmed course at 100 km an hour (60 mph) at an altitude of 300 meters (1,000 feet), the authority said in a statement.

The service is meant to help reduce traffic congestion along the Emirate’s main thoroughfares, and was built to withstand the country’s extreme temperatures during summer. With this new innovation, Dubai could reach its goal of becoming a world leader in driverless technology by 2030.

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Uber Taps NASA Expert to Make Flying Cars a Reality

Uber Elevate

Uber’s ride sharing concept didn’t just revolutionize the transportation industry – it carved a totally new business model. It’s no surprise then, that the company is consistently investing in technology that will once again prove to be game changing.

Last October, Uber announced plans to develop vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft to provide a cost-effective and efficient ride sharing service that can shuttle passengers around cities. Now, former NASA engineer Mark Moore will be joining the team to bring these flying, on-demand vehicles into reality.

VTOL route. Image Credit: Uber

Moore, who originally lent his engineering expertise for Uber’s white paper on the VTOL craft, will now serve as the company’s Director of Engineering for their new concept, dubbed Uber Elevate.

“I can’t think of another company in a stronger position to be the leader for this new ecosystem and make the urban electric VTOL market real,” the 30-year NASA veteran shared with Bloomberg. 

Challenges of Flying Cars

While Moore is intent on taking Uber’s vision to new heights (literally), he’s pragmatic enough to recognize the technological and logistical challenges of this project.

On the technical side, the company has to contend with improving vehicle efficiency and limited battery life, while making sure to address potential issues, like noise pollution. On the logistical front, the company has to lobby regulators to reduce air-traffic restrictions, and certify aircrafts for use. But, given Uber’s 55-million-strong market, it’s in a prime position to demonstrate the potential of this technology, and maybe even pave the way for other innovators who are working to bring vehicles to the skies.

AeroMobil has been working on a prototype that combines the characteristics of a traditional car with a small airplane. Airbus’ Project Vahana is working on a similar, helicopter-style autonomous vehicle that can ferry passengers in the air. And Jetpack Aviation, a company primarily focused on developing jetpacks, is dipping their toes in the flying car industry.

Uber, along with all these companies, will inevitably create a new frontier in transportation – defined by convenience, sustainability, and innovation.

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A Jetpack Company Is Coming Out With Flying Cars

Flying Cars on the Horizon

The guys who brought the world its first working jetpack are now looking to get into the flying car business. David Mayman of Jetpack Aviation (JPA) took some time to discuss his new concept designs with New Atlas.

The concept vehicle would be a manned multirotor vehicle with a dozen propellers arrayed coaxially. The vehicle would be capable of speeds up to 145 km/h (90 mph) and vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL). One of the drawbacks of this technology at this point in development is how limited fly times are given the current state of battery capacity. However, as more traditional car companies go electric, the technology will catch up rapidly. According to Mayman, “…the beauty of distributed electric propulsion is that it’s very, very scalable. The way that electric motors work, it’s hey, you wanna make something for two people? OK, you just add power to the electric motors.”

 

Image credit: JPA                                                                

Closer Than You Think

The rapid pace of current technological innovation is actually making the first flying cars relatively easy to develop. Drone technology can be thanked for much of the advancement. “Drone technology has advanced all of that stuff – the autopilot, the stabilization – to the point where we nearly don’t have to do any R&D for that. We can just about start from off-the-shelf products and customize it for our use,” says Mayman.

There is actually plenty of competition in this burgeoning field. Some of the biggest names in both tech and aviation are throwing their concepts into the race. A Skype co-founder is investing millions in a super-fast flying car concept that reaches speeds up to 250 km/h (155 mph), a Google co-founder was even spotted coming out of a flying car in October of last year, and perhaps the most exciting prospect comes from Airbus’s plans to develop an autonomous flying car sometime this year.

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According to Experts, We’re 10 Years Away From Autonomous Flying Taxis

Ridesharing in the Sky

Way before Elon Musk planned to drill under Los Angeles to avoid traffic, several companies had already been toying with the idea of beating traffic by going over it. Indeed, flying cars have long been a part of science fiction, but they could soon become a part of our everyday reality. And once we have autonomous flying cars, it’s only a matter of time before we have autonomous flying taxis for those who prefer hitching a ride to owning one.

According to a report by the Associated Press, experts think flying taxis could arrive in the next 10 to 15 years. “In terms of what you can make fly in a reliable manner, the solution speed gateway that (computer) chips have gone through recently have literally opened the door to a whole new world of flying machine possibilities,” Charles Eastlake, an aerospace engineering professor at Embry-Riddle University, told the AP. “My best engineering guess is that people actually using autonomous air taxis in the next 10 or 15 years is possible, but definitely not certain. The challenges are big.”

In the Works

Certainly, recent developments in engineering have contributed greatly to bringing flying cars closer to reality. Still, there are other technical hurdles to overcome, and more still in order to develop flying vehicles that are autonomous. For one, there aren’t yet any flight versions of autonomous sensory systems found in self-driving cars. There’s also the challenge of battery weight, which is an issue even for current electric cars that stay on the ground — autonomous flying taxis would need much better, lighter batteries.

In addition to sorting out the technology, we’d also need ground infrastructure that would allow flying vehicles to operate unobstructed, with enough space for take-off and landing zones. “There’s no question we can build the vehicle,” MIT professor John Hansman, who advises the FAA, told the AP. “The big challenge is whether we can build a vehicle that would be allowed to operate in the places where people want to use it.”

That isn’t an insurmountable hurdle, though, as ridesharing company Uber already has infrastructure plans for a flying taxi service that relies on vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicles. Indeed, they aren’t the only company thinking about this new era in travel. European aircraft manufacturer Airbus is keen on delivering a prototype of its A3 Vahana this year, with plans to have it ready for production by 2020. Israeli tech firm Urban Aeronautics has already created prototypes of its Cormorant, a people-carrying drone that’s intended for military use and that can attain speeds of up to 185 km/h (115 mph), hover for an hour, and carry up to 1,100 pounds. 

Apart from these, there are still others: the VTOL Lilium JetAeroMobil 3.0, which uses regular gasoline; Chinese drone-maker EHang’s 184 person-carrying drone; Joby Aviation’s all-electric VTOL S2; and the Zee VTOL car, which Google founder Larry Page was supposedly spotted in, just to name a few. Undoubtedly, with all these projects in the works, it’s clear that flying cars and autonomous flying taxis are coming. It’s just a matter of how soon we can be ready for them.

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Airbus Plans to Make Autonomous, Flying Cars a Reality by 2017

Project Vahana

We live in a time where Level 5 autonomous cars are close to becoming a reality, and more than one company is working towards bringing humans to Mars. Consider all this, it’s almost surprising that flying cars haven’t taken to the skies yet. But it turns out we may not have to wait too long: Airbus is planning to test a prototype, not only for a flying car but an autonomous flying car.

“One hundred years ago, urban transport went underground, now we have the technological wherewithal to go above ground,” said Airbus CEO Tom Enders at the DLD digital tech conference in Munich.

As reported previously, the project, dubbed Project Vahana, aims to transport people in a helicopter-style, autonomous vehicle capable of shuttling several riders. The technology is aiming to give motorists and commuters an option to avoid the increasingly congested roads by simply booking a spot on the airborne taxi. Think Uber but for the skies – but also with a serious push to invest in autonomous driving technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to make self-driving, flying vehicles possibles.

Image Credit: Airbus/ Project Vahana

The world’s largest commercial maker of helicopters also assures that they are making sure to employ clean technology in the development of this vehicle so that it doesn’t aggravate pollution in urban areas. They also point out that it will help lower cost of infrastructure development since cities won’t have to invest in expensive construction for roads and bridges.

Airbus goes on to explain that they are now in the experimentation phase and are taking “this development very seriously.” To that end, they hope to have the vehicle available for short-haul trips by 2021 – which means a fully functional prototype should be ready by 2017.

Flying Cars

It should be noted that Airbus isn’t the only company looking to take the ride sharing concept airborne. Uber, recognized as the most popular ride sharing company today, already spoke about running a network of vertical take-off and landing (VOTL) aircrafts to take its business to the skies.

Israeli company, Urban Aeronautics developed the Cormorant, a passenger drone capable of carrying 500kg (1,102 lbs) at speeds up to 185 km/h (115 mph) – the technology is being eyed for military applications. In the middle of 2016, a company called AeroMobil unveiled a vehicle designed to run on land and be flown in the air. When they presented the AeroMobil 3.0, the company announced that they intended to commercialize the vehicle by this year. In addition, tech luminaries also seem very keen on bringing flying cars to reality. Skype’s Co-Founder has reportedly invested 10 million to create a prototype, and Google co-founder Larry Page has also put money into a flying car startup.

The future of flying cars is looking very bright indeed – and based on these projected timelines, 2017 may well be the year that we see it come to fruition.

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Skype Co-Founder Invests 10 Million in a Flying Car That Can Travel More Than 250 KM/H

Pumping Money Into Flying Cars

Flying cars might not have the most beautiful exteriors, nor are they the safest form of transportation, but for Atomico, a European venture firm, that doesn’t matter. They’re betting flying cars will take-off, not only literally but financially as well.

It’s faith in this technology that has the venture firm investing 10 million euros in Lilium Aviation, a start-up aviation company that plans on bringing flying cars into reality.

The company’s current prototype is the forth in a line of attempts. It boasts a lightweight frame that has a take-off weight of around 600 kilograms with a maximum payload of 200 kilograms. It’s able to fly by using VTOL technology, which is also seen in some military fighter jets.

Instead of giant engines though, the flying car is able to lift-off vertically using 36 “directable, ducted electric fans.” The vehicle is able to achieve flight by slowly turning the fans horizontally, with the wings and the fuselage generating aerodynamic lift. It has a maximum speed of 250 to 300 km/h (160 to 190 mph).

Credit: Lilium Aviation
Credit: Lilium Aviation

Bringing Flying Cars to Consumers

The flying car industry may not be taking off in the near future, what with several challenges standing in its way, including regulation issues and safety concerns. Lilium is confident however: “we looked into, when we designed the plane, that we can certify the plane with existing legislation,” says Daniel Wiegand from Lilium Aviation in TechCrunch.

It also has not stopped several other companies that are planning to bring flying cars to the market. Chinese company eHang has already unveiled a drone that can transport passengers. Other companies like Aeromobil and Terrafugia have opted for a more conventional flying car design – slapping wings onto an aerodynamic car/fuselage on wheels.

Whatever the best approach, flying cars are getting a lot of attention from investors that see their potential to reshape the future of transport. Who knows, traffic might become a thing of the past, as Lilium claims.

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