Flying Cars on Our Streets Within a Decade

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Posted on 31st March 2018 – Car Technology


In the 19th century, French writer Jules Verne wrote a number of ‘science fiction’ novels about a trip to the moon and adventures aboard a submarine. A century and a half later, we have sent so much equipment in space that the Earth is surrounded by a belt of metal fragments and submarines are commonplace. We are even on the verge of space tourism!

So flying cars may well sound like science fiction to us now, but with the advances in technologies required to make it happen – drones, vehicle autonomy and AI - they may become a reality sooner than we think. In the last five years, eight companies - PAL-V, Terrafugia, Aeromobil, Ehang, E-Volo, Urban Aeronautics, Kitty Hawk and Lilium Aviation - have built prototypes and tested first flights, and over a dozen worldwide are actively investing in R&D. PAL-V have even gone a step further and optimistically started to pre-sell their model, the Liberty Pioneer, that they aim to launch by the end of this year.

For flying cars to become a reality, a range of industries will have to be involved and this is exactly what we are witnessing; the rise of companies with technical expertise and funds backing up these car manufacturers. Government agencies, regulators and law makers will also have a major role to play to put in place the legislative and legal framework to allow these cars on the roads and define liability in insurance and criminal matters. Uber, for example, has recently launched ‘Uber Elevate’ a programme aiming to create momentum by facilitating synergies between manufacturers, regulators and governments.

Of course, you wouldn’t expect something as exciting as flying cars not to tickle Google’s fancy. They provided start-up Kitty Hawk with US$100 million and, in April 2017, the company shared a YouTube video of a functional flying car – although it looks more like a mini plane-cum-quad-bike than the Dolorean of Back to the Future.

Skype and Twitter co-founders wouldn’t be left behind and backed up another start-up, German Lilium Aviation, to the tune of US$90 million. The company is currently concentrating on flying taxis rather than personal vehicles.

In addition, European plane / rocket maker Airbus have shown their interest in flying cars by unveiling three concepts: Vahana, a personal flying car; a mass-transit flying vehicle for their long-term air transport strategy and an air-drone-powered flying car that they plan to develop with Italdesign.

It will be interesting to see on which application manufacturers focus at first. While the idea of private flying cars is mightily exciting, the question remains whether they would be viable financially as they will be a niche market as long as their sales price remains high, which is likely to be a while. A more likely scenario would be to produce them for commercial clients such as taxi, transport or shipping companies wanting to create a flying fleet or governments, as they would have the numbers for mass production.

The military could certainly have many uses for flying cars including border patrolling, helping troops through difficult terrains and carrying evacuations more quickly. Likewise, they could be hugely helpful to emergency services and law enforcement agencies.

However, even if personal flying cars don’t end up being a priority for manufacturers, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you and I will miss out on the fun as it is easy to see their potential in the recreational market such as theme parks and tourist attractions.

However, while all this is sounding promising, it is also fraught with challenges.

First of all, if those cars are to be part of the urban landscape, they will need to be able to take off from pretty much anywhere and not need cleared areas, which means they will need Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) capabilities.

Ensuring safety will also be paramount. Cars evolve in two dimensions, but flying cars would be able to use a variety of heights. Some form of air control will therefore have to be developed to allocate air corridors so that cars don’t crash into each other. A question immediately imposes itself: which qualifications will you need to drive / pilot one? A commercial pilot’s license? It would make sense but it would dramatically reduce the potential of the market. On the other hand, anything less than that sounds incredibly unsafe.

A potential solution would be for flying cars to be partially autonomous so that they can manage challenges such as avoiding other flying vehicles, and indeed, Ehang and Lilium are already working on developing such capabilities. Like with driverless cars, the issues of how much control a car should have on itself is an ongoing debate.

Recreational air drones are already restricted as to where they are allowed to fly so as not to infringe on individual privacy, so something similar would probably have to be put in place for flying cars. It also, of course, raises concerns about security. Flying vehicles could be the perfect way to carry out terrorist attacks and would be much more difficult to contain than traditional cars.

One of the main obstacles to flying cars’ commercialisation is that regulation is completely non existent as it is when it comes to self-driving cars. To create the legislative framework, governments and regulators around the world would have to work together closely, and as governments are not really renown for their speed, this single point, the absence of law, could well postpone the advent of flying cars.

Although flying commercial vehicles could revolutionise the way we, as a company, do shipping, we will stick to what we know best for the moment! With over 25 years’ experience in maritime shipping, we pride ourselves in our outstanding level of service and making sure that shipping your vehicle is stress free for you. If you want to know more, you can give us a call on +64 9 309 1163 or request a free quote. As soon as we decide to use flying trucks to transport vehicles, we’ll let you know!

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