Ahh, the sci fi of having a flying car. Can you imagine flying to work in a DeLorean from “Back to the Future”? Wow, that would be cool. A sci fi dream since the car was invented, the first official flying car was created in 1917 by Glenn Curtiss. The “Curtiss Autoplane” was essentially a small plane whose wings can be quickly disassembled and stowed, and whose motor drove both the wheels and the propellor. Though not practical, it set the scene for the revolution of engineering and inventing that is happening now - 100 years after the first autoplane! Through this post, I will outline the overall ideas of flying cars and explore some of the hallmarks of this field.
Why Flying Cars?
Short answer: they are cool!
Longer answer: they can help solve car congestion in cities and get us to places faster
GOAL: alleviate car congestion (but also, it's cool, faster, environmentally friendly, and makes $$$)
Urban mobility - close point to point for passengers and cargo
Similar to helicopters, but electric and connected
All about the systems that make vehicles shareable and effective, replacing taxis
Challenges in engineering: noise, battery level, policy/infrastructure, lift capacity, carbon/size footprint
Does not replace long distance planes
Engineering Advancements in the Field
Distributed electric propulsion: The idea is that the use of many small propellers is more efficient and reliable than the use of several large ones. Moore believes the approach can reduce the operating cost and noise profile of aircraft, a necessity for bringing this technology to cities.
“Distributed electric propulsion is at the core of the colliding technology frontiers that enable this new capability,” says Mark Moore, director of vehicle systems at Uber Elevate.
Autonomous: no need for pilot's license
Convenient for people and businesses
Safer: no road infrastructure to maintain, but need consistent system and FAA approval
Security and legal certifications have not been considered yet
Battery tech: The biggest hurdles lie here, especially if sustained flight is the goal.
Needs to come a long way for sustained flight
What is first going to be profitable is turboprop (hybrid) propulsion like Terrafugia has
Improving upon the technology above
Getting permission from the FAA
Noise: Imagine thousands of mini airplanes scooting around the skies above your home! Fortunately, NASA and others have devised clever experiments to test noise-reduction technologies.
Companies/Projects in the Field
Did you want your flying car to look like a UFO? Maybe it might: check out their website.
Audi + Airbus + Italdesign
All three companies have an interesting collaboration: a pod with passengers gets transferred between an airborne drone and a ground-based drive train.
Vehicles bought from other companies
Supports the engineering side of the business
Uber acts as a connector (yet who knows what will happen in 10 years as the build their own)
Book through Uber app
Their Uber Elevate system is starting in LA and Dallas in 2020
Check out their whitepaper here: https://www.uber.com/elevate.pdf/
Helicopter company going into the field
Theirs is a luxurious air taxi. Bell has the resources, infrastructure, and connections to make all this possible.
All vehicles are more or less similar; "cousin" to helicopters
With electric advances and interconnectivity and autonomous control, allows for cheaper prices and easy transportation
Big companies with $ and influence will get best locations and most people using the app, and will build the necessary infrastructure faster
Uber will be leader with Elevate, then Airbus with it’s system
However, maybe a race such as with electric scooters will start up in cities
Cargo will go to more niche competitors, but what for? Most is done by truck, so I don’t see a clear way they will be more efficient. Maybe delivering not a lot of things to consumers (like a couch, for example) or to places that are hard to reach in dense urban environment
Personal flying vehicles will not be that big, because there is no need. Maybe in the countryside or for the rich, but with short flight times can’t do much and helicopter is the preferred method. Maybe good for specific applications like firefighting, search/rescue, agriculture, though that can be done in full autonomous.
Autonomous flying is easier than autonomous driving because you don’t need to integrate into existing systems - this will be entirely new and the concept of air highways or dedicated flying zones will be designed now. Also way less avoidance detection needed - maybe for tall buildings or a bird.
With the need for FAA approval, will be very much in trial stages or for early pilot hobbyists. Only go mainstream in ~10 years.
Cool Links for the Curious Reader
Another "primer" on flying cars: https://www.airspacemag.com/flight-today/13_sep2018-so-s-what-flying-cars-are-180969917/
Ready to take the plunge? Check out this website for dedicated news on flying cars: http://evtol.news/