Over the past few years, as Hollywood regaled us with futuristic inventions, few of us believed that we would live to see the technology come into existence. The heightened pace of technological innovation, though, seems to be sending us speeding towards a future that may previously have seemed impossible.
Enter the flying car, featured in plenty of sci-fi films, but first prophesied in 1940 by Henry Ford, who said: “Mark my words – a combination aeroplane and motor car is coming.”
Probably only handful of people believed in this futuristic possibility at the time.
Everyone is going to want one, and this time it’s not technology that’s holding the idea back, it’s regulations and infrastructure. The flying car is already here. After all, how quickly can parking lots—or driveways, for that matter--be turned into runways? And would these cars even need runways?
For the first flying cars, we won’t be pilots—we’ll be passengers, and everything will be controlled by a complex GPS system and a brand new air-traffic control concept.
And we’re closer than you think…
Last week, the German government signed a letter of intent that effectively gives the greenlight for testing of the flying taxi in and around the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt, the hometown of Audi.
Audi has teamed up with airplane maker Airbus and design house Italdesign to unveil Pop.Up Next, a reworked version of the two-seat autonomous vehicle concept, unveiled for the first time at last year's Geneva Motor Show.
Pop.Up Next revolves around a passenger pod that attaches to a skateboard-like platform, but that can hook up to a drone for times when flying is more convenient. The air module can fly some 30 miles on each charge of its 70-kWh battery, using eight electric motors that can reach a speed of 336 mph.
While greenlighting the project, German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer said that flying taxis are no longer just a vision.
“They can take us off into a new dimension of mobility…They're a huge opportunity for companies and young startups that already develop this technology very concretely and successfully," Scheuer said.
When we’ll start seeing commercial production, though, is anyone’s guess. That depends on quite a few variables, starting with testing in Germany.
Airbus and Italdesign believe it could be somewhere between seven and 10 years.
For now, this project is about preparing the public mindset for what is to come—and it’s about fierce tech competition.
Check out Uber, for instance.
The ride-hailing giant is already negotiating the technology and safety infrastructure with its research into Elevate, a fleet of electric, autonomous, vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aerial taxis. And they’re planning to launch by 2020 in Dubai and Dallas-Fort Worth, with other cities to follow.
Uber’s vision is one of “vertiports” in city centers’, controlled by new concept of air-traffic control.
Volocopter, a German startup backed by Intel and Daimler has built a drone-like electric helicopter to ferry travelers across cities. And it’s already completed test flights and seeks to offer first commercial trips in the next three to five years.
In November, Geely, the Chinese owner of Volvo and Lotus, acquired Terrafugia, a U.S. flying-car developer that plans on delivering its first flying car to the market by 2019, and then launch its VTOL by 2023.
With an investment of $100 million, Toyota is also working on a fully electric, VTOL, computer-controlled flying car and has teamed up with Jetblue.
It seems like most naysayers still in the room will soon be silenced by this onslaught of innovation.
By Damir Kaletovic for Safehaven.com