Flying cars (still) coming: should we believe in hype?

The EHang drone from China will provide VIP sky shuttle service in Dubai.

Flying cars (still) coming: should we believe in hype?

In the 1950s, when americans were encouraged by hopeful and reckless speculation, forecasters had some wild ideas about 21st-century technology. Some come true, like robot companions. Most of them are not, just like the shuttle bus.

In their 2012 book, the editors of Popular Mechanics gathered their predictions: a bright future that will never happen.

But, in particular, a concept withstood the unrealized – flying car. Check out those special “future” versions of old magazines, and you’ll find that many determined citizens work in suspension cars and tail fins. So what’s the problem with dreams?

You may have noticed, then, that flying cars have been buzzing with headlines this week, with new prototypes taking turns in Texas and Uber’s flying car technology summit. The timing seems right to reassess our future dreams. The good news is that flying cars are no longer science fiction – in fact, some designs are already in the air. The bad news is that you won’t fly soon.

First, this is good news. According to your definition of terms, flying cars have been around for years. A straightforward hybrid like the Terrafugia Transition is basically a car with folded wings – folding when you’re driving around; When you run down the runway, they fall. Of course, these vehicles are essentially private jets – you need a driver’s license.

Then there is the rotor-driven aircraft, which functions like a small helicopter or maximizes the drone. Click on the Internet and you can find several projects in this area, from high-tech samples, such as the new Kitty Hawk (supported by Google’s Larry Page) to the old-fashioned leonardo style pedal-driven Ornithopters. Depending on where you fly, many of these private jets are classified as entertainment ultralights and do not require a driver’s license at all.

But they are not strictly critical of our commitment to the Jetsons flavor. For real space-age things, you want cars with enclosed huts to launch and land in crowded urban environments. This means extending existing vertical take-off and landing (vertical take-off and landing) technology, which is used by military vehicles such as the Har Jump jet. As a good example of this approach, check out Germany’s Lilium jet, supported by the European space agency.

Lilium has been testing its all-electric personal jet, which takes off and lands vertically.

Lily is a plant aviation.

Still, the issue of the tiresome pilot’s license remains. If we’re worried that there are too many drones in space, do we really want to consider a sky full of personal aircraft?

To solve this problem, the biggest players in the flying car game are making a more important innovation: flying cars can drive themselves. This is the target of Uber aimed at its new elevation plan, which envisages the future of semi-autonomous flying vehicles that can be called from the designated rooftop and helicopter landing zones around the city.

Jeff Holden, chief product officer of Uber, describes a future service called Uber Air. “You really push a button and you get a flight,” he said at the Elevate summit in Dallas on Tuesday. He said a car trip between San Francisco and SAN jose could take up to two and a half hours, depending on the traffic and “it’s like a 15-minute flight.”

“It gives you the freedom to radically shorten the time from point A to point B,” Holden says. Uber hopes to have a prototype by 2020 and eventually cut costs to match UberX partners.

Uber plans to expand its transport services through the promotion program.

Uber cup

Uber’s “taxi fleet” will initially combine the use of human pilots and automated systems, and may eventually turn to a flight network entirely controlled by artificial intelligence.

If that seems crazy, consider that the city of dubai has announced that it will deploy a fleet of air taxis with China’s EHang 184 passenger drone this summer.

Uber is not the only big slugger in the field. European aviation giant airbus has gradually unveiled its ambitious self-driving car project, hoping to begin testing next year. Airbus’s pop.up system will use modular cabins, which can be fixed to a set of wheels on the bottom or a set of wheels at the top, depending on whether you are driving or flying.

Airbus envisages the road and sky of hybrid vehicles in the future.

The Uber and airbus projects also include other major automotive innovations in recent years – electric vehicles. Both systems envisage a future of all-electric taxis and buses to reduce weight, noise and pollution. In fact, almost all of the recent flying car recommendations are stored in batteries, except for those pedal – driven toys.

In a recent issue of airbus business magazine, chief executive Tom Enders, said he fully expected in major cities have a flight instructor and taxi filled the sky: “in the near future, we will use our smart phone reservation fully automated flight taxi will land on our front door – no pilot. ”

Different points of view

It all seems very exciting and imminent, but there are clearly some big obstacles – real autonomous driving technology and air traffic control. Adding millions of flying cars and taxis to existing airspace would require a massive restart of air traffic control systems, possibly managed by some future artificial intelligence. The more you think about it, the more daunting it becomes. If you want to keep the dream of the 1950s alive, stop reading now.

Aviation consultant Richard Aboulafia is one of the sceptics. As a senior industry analyst, Aboulafia’s life assessed the nuts and bolts of reality, not concept maps. He says there is a core design problem when it comes to hybrid vehicles that can travel on roads and fly in the air.

The EHang drone from China will provide VIP air transport services in dubai.


“You know, I want a good product that combines shampoo and conditioner in a bottle, but you can’t do that,” he said. “The same is true for the cars that fly here – you have a completely unsuitable aircraft that intersect with a completely unsuitable car, and you have two different animals here.”

For the ski taxis and autonomous flying convoys, such as Uber and airbus, Aboulafia sees another practical problem: “more problems than I can do, really.”

The first thing that comes out of the Uber’s promotion white paper is the old industry dilemma: electric cars have basic battery problems, he says.

“The biggest problem with the Elevate declaration is that it assumes that there is a truly amazing battery with an amazing energy density,” he said. “We’ve been fighting for this for the last century, and you need that kind of reliability to keep you in the air and keep you safe. This is not a tesla – you can’t just pull one side of the road. ”


He worries about driving himself. After all, for flying cars, we’re adding an extra dimension to the unresolved problem of two-dimensional problems.

“When we have a safe self-driving car, we will be part of it,” Aboulafia said. “But we need to make significant progress in feeling and avoiding technology to be able to track everything in all directions.”

Then there is maintenance. “The plane has a lot of moving parts, you know,” Aboulafia said. “Aircraft maintenance is much more expensive than car maintenance – ask any pilot, if nothing else, we need a comprehensive maintenance revolution.”

Is there any hope? Do we value the vision of flying cars in the 1950s as an impossible science fiction dream? So, abramoff doesn’t want to be a scoundrel.

“Maybe one day, we have an infinitely safe battery power, and the ability to really automate, and the machine is really flying,” Aboulafia said. “it’s an amazing fusion. “All this could lead to a kind of urban liquidity revolution.

“But if you do, it’s years, even decades.”


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