In the 1880s, the first automobile was developed and about two decades later, the Wright brothers in North Carolina invented the first successful airplane. Today, the world is closer to combining these two concepts and the dream of covering smaller distances in vehicles capable of Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) is very much alive.
As Japanese Tech Company, Skydrive Inc. has completed a manned test flight of a “flying car, the dream of using new technologies to rise above the ever-increasing urban-road congestion has gained significant momentum. With more than 250 businesses planning to build, operate, or manufacture urban-air-mobility (UAM) vehicles, all at different stages of development, a growing assortment of industry players is working across the value chain to make this dream a reality.
Flying vehicles may smack of science fiction, if not of science fantasy. The aircrafts usually resemble a drone used by hobbyists all over the world. But that is where the similarity ends, as the urban-air-mobility (UAM) vehicles are significantly heavier and require industrial-strength technologies. The flying vehicles will be energy efficient, quiet, environmentally friendly, and eventually pilotless.
To offer sustainable service, flying vehicles need places to take off, land, receive maintenance, charge their batteries and/or refuel their tanks, and park. Complicating the picture, traffic flows are typically unevenly distributed and highly directional. Mornings and evenings see high demand for travel, while demand is low in the middle of the day and nights.
Physical infrastructure will be an important determinant for the size of the addressable market, since the only trips possible are between VTOL ports. If only a few ports are available, flying-vehicle transport could follow a pattern similar to that seen in today’s helicopter market, where the number of potential destinations is limited.
It may be hard to imagine a future in which the air is filled with personal copters and if leaders want to scale the UAM market without facing the limits seen with today’s helicopter transport, they must establish many more ports, as well as more routes among them.
The location of the infrastructure will determine market-conversion levels. The closer a passenger is to a take-off or landing spot, the greater the potential for time savings. If a landing spot is too far away from the origin or destination, the customer might not save enough time for a UAM trip to make sense.
Notwithstanding, here are 5 flying cars we can expect to see in the skies in the near future.
SkyDrive Inc. SD-03
The vehicle is essentially a large quad copter drone that can transport people. Powered by a battery, the flying car when tested, briefly climbed to about 3 meters above the ground before returning to the landing position. A contraption that looked like a slick motorcycle with propellers lifted several feet (1 to 2 meters) off the ground, and circled around slowly in a netted area.
The SD-03 aircraft has one seat and operates with eight motors and two propellers on each corner. It lifted about 3 meters (or about 10 feet) into the air and was operated by a pilot, the company said.
The Japanese company acknowledged that, the flying car can be made into a real-life product by 2023 but making it safe was critical.
Ehang 184 is a personal quadcopter VTOL that is fully automated, totally safe, completely comfortable, and powered via a basic touchscreen interface that anyone can use. EHang AAV uses electric power to reduce environmental harm caused by emission.
The aircraft can be charged by 220V or 380V power supply in 1hour at the fastest. The charging devices can communicate in real time with the aircraft Battery Management System (BMS).
Traditional infrastructure such as large airport or runway is not required, suiting the scenario demands of urban air mobility and serving as an effective way to relieve the current traffic congestion pressures.
The Transition brings the dream of the flying car to life. With retractable wings and wheels, the Transition is a hybrid model designed to be equally at home on the ground and in the skies. Terrafugia allows for a Shift from Park, to Drive and to Fly.
Eliminating the hassle of hangar storage, ground transportation, and aviation fuel, the Transition fuels up with automotive gas and can be stored in your home garage. Leather seats provide comfort and durability while the dashboard serves air and road modes.
Uber’s VTOL taxis
Uber’s taxi project is one of the biggest in the VTOL industry. The company targets 2023 as the year its service will be available commercially. Each plane will be capable of reaching 150mph and will have a range of about 60 miles on non-reserve power when carrying one pilot and four passengers.
Vehicles should operate entirely on battery-electric energy storage with a rapid charging capability (up to 600 kW). Vehicles are expected to charge for less than 7 minutes during 3-hour sprint windows and less than 15 minutes otherwise.
Porsche-Boeing flying taxi
German company, Porsche in partnership with Boeing and its subsidiary, Aurora Flight Sciences are developing a flying taxi with an electric powertrain. This type of contraption does not require a runway like an airplane and operates more like a helicopter propeller forces allow the VTOL to take off from the ground.
However, instead of the propellers usually common with flying taxi concepts, Porsche engineers have gone for an array of ducted fans, with a fixed pair of horizontal fans set forward in the air-foil and another pair of fans set into the trailing edge. Those at the back can swivel at least 90 degrees, providing a range of vertical and horizontal thrust.
Humans are on the verge of a new mobility revolution, resonant of the ones created by the invention of the automobile and the plane. If this becomes successful, it would definitely create a different and possibly faster means of transportation. We are going to benefit a lot as congestion on our roads is reduced and the geographical limitations of ground mobility is overcome.