Uber announced this week the hiring of former Nasa engineer Mark Moore to work on developing a flying version of their lift service. Is this just a publicity stunt or is the technology closer than we might think?
Flying cars have been an imagined ideal for centuries and has been a perennial presence in every ‘city of the future’ and ‘society of tomorrow’ prediction since at least the late 19th Century. But the year 2000 came and went and we stayed thoroughly two-dimensional in our everyday commutes.
But now with new, lighter materials, more powerful batteries and the increasing popularity of drones leading to more research into the mechanics of flight, is the possibility of liberating the power of flight from airlines closer than ever?
The race to accomplish a viable, commercially affordable and, above all, practical flying car is especially interesting as the variety of potential designs is incredibly wide. There is no common theme of technology, from collapsible wings to fan-powered craft, whoever gets there first will surely set a solid paradigm for a newfound industry.
Here we look at some of the closest, coolest and craziest ideas for flying cars.
Terrafugia, formed by five MIT graduates in nearby Massachusetts in 2006, named their hybrid vehicle the Transition. Similar to other vehicles listed here, the Transition uses a collapsible wing to switch between flight and road modes. The wing tucks up against the body – or perhaps fuselage? – in road mode and is intended to fit into a standard one car garage.
The Transition has been in the works since 2007, has already been confirmed as road legal and is currently in its second iteration with final production and consumer delivery expected around 2020.
Toyota were granted a patent in March 2016 for a ‘stackable wing for an aerocar’. The idea seems to be here that the wings of the car retract back into place for road mode similar to a convertible.
Toyota have also patented a ‘lift enhancing system’ for a flying car in a possibly connected design although it seems likely that the car giant is making only tentative advances into the unknown industry.
Airbus – Vahana
Airbus, the one only giant in the aeronautical industry that makes this list, currently has two main projects being developed as part of their A^3 facility in Silicon Valley: Skyways, an attempt to produce an autonomous network of drones for distribution and Vahana.
Vahana is a a self-piloted aircraft capable of carrying both humans and cargo yet while the project has been announced, there is still an element of secrecy around the project. While there is no patent data readily available, concept images have been widely circulated alongside reports of the first complete test flights expected by the end of 2017.
Unlike the majority of other names on this list, Airbus’ existing infrastructure and reputation within the industry would be more than capable of rolling out the Vahana to the general public fast and efficiently – provided it’s a successful launch.
“We believe that global demand for this category of aircraft can support fleets of millions of vehicles worldwide.
“In as little as 10 years, we could have products on the market that revolutionise urban travel for millions of people” Rodin Lyasoff, CEO of Airbus A^3
Ehang, an existing manufacturer of several consumer hobby drones, is attempting to scale up its existing models to carry the weight of a person, fully autonomously.
The Ehang184 claims to be the ‘safest, Smartest and Eco-Friendly low altitude autonomous aerial vehicle’ is reportedly made from ‘100% green technology’.
The 184 debuted at CES 2016 and is currently undergoing flight tests.
Urban AeronauticsSource: PatSnap
Israeli firm Urban Aeronautics is bucking the trend for plane/car crosses and instead is developing their own technology known as Fancraftä, a ducted-fan design designed to produce Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL). The technology, as well potentially negating the need for an airstrip for take-off also allows for six degrees of movement, meaning the craft doesn’t have to pitch as much.
Urban Aeronautics and its subsidiaries Tactical Robotics and Metro Skyways aim to make use of the manoeuvrability to navigate inner city skylines, possibily the only vehicle on this list already contemplating real use.
The Slovakian AeroMobil unveiled their model 3.0 in Vienna in 2014 and has been involved in regular flight-testing ever since. Possibly the most established model in this list, the AeroMobil 3.0 is, according to their website, finalised and the company expect to begin taking orders in 2017.
LAPCAD EngineeringSource: PatSnap
This small San Diego based engineering firm has two main designs for a flying car, the LAPCAD Advanced Research Vehicle (LARV) and the Fly Out of Trouble (FOOT). Similar to Urban Aeronautics’ approach of using fans instead of propellers, both models are interesting but still only concepts.
Laurentiu JianuSource: PatSnap
While it’s been over 10 years now since the initial patent application date from this seemingly lone inventor, the eye-catching design of this machine is not only more in line with what we might expect from the Jetson-esque technology, it is also cited in some of the other applications we have listed here.
PAL-V is a Dutch company that has been developing the ONE, a tri-wheeled hybrid vehicle, since 1999. With two seats, the PAL-V ONE is capable of flying up to 1200m and can reach a top speed of 112mph – on both the road and in the air. The ONE first flew in 2012 and the team has been working on producing the first commercial version ever since.