Flying cars may seem unimaginable, but they are already here, in the form of commercial jetpacks and personal air taxis. They have the potential to change the way we commute, work, and live. From electric gliders to fixed-wing craft and quadcopter drones, advances in battery energy density, materials science, and computer simulation have sparked the development of a variety of personal flying vehicles (and the navigation systems that will enable them to fly). The autonomous urban aircraft market is currently in a state of flux. Dozens of start-ups are vying for the rights to build commercial jetpacks, flying motorcycles, and personal air taxis. Venture capitalists, car and aviation companies, and even Uber, with its visionary Uber Elevate, are claiming a piece of the burgeoning market, which could be worth $1.5 trillion by 2040. Meanwhile, aviation authorities are working out the policies and safety requirements that will regulate this new mode of transportation.
Personal Flying Cars
Lilium unveiled a revolutionary concept that has been re-calibrated to seven seats from a five-seat prototype that flew unmanned in 2019. The aircraft uses ducted fan vectored thrust for electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL), with 36 wing-mounted fans enabling vertical and forward flight. The vehicle is said to be capable of speeds of up to 175 mph at 10,000 feet and a range of more than 155 miles. Japan, on the other hand, is a step ahead of the game. The Japanese government wants flying cars to be in widespread use by 2023, and to that end, it’s rushing through a collection of guidelines that will enable public testing to begin in March 2022.
Is it the Start of an Aviation Revolution?
Most hover cars are built with rotors instead of wings, allowing for vertical takeoff and landing. They are much smaller than a commercial plane. Tilt rotors, for example, allow for a more efficient forward flight over longer distances, while multirotors are designed to minimize noise while hovering. Most importantly, these vehicles are built to provide individuals with quicker commutes than conventional modes of transportation, particularly in congested cities.
Other firms have collaborated with major automobile manufacturers to build models that they intend to commercialize in the future. SkyDrive, a Japanese startup, recently teamed up with Toyota to perform a test flight of its all-electric air taxi, which is claimed to be the world’s smallest electric vehicle capable of vertical takeoff and landing. The company recently completed a successful flight of its SD-03 craft around an airfield with a pilot at the controls. Indeed, those advancements allowed a slew of aircraft designers to clamor for a piece of the Air Taxi industry. Companies such as Lillium, Wisk, Joby Aviation, Bell, and countless others are benefiting from technologies such as electric propulsion, which decreases noise pollution significantly, and battery power, which increases range. There is no lack of Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) designs or the imagined heights that could be achieved with them, in an industry that is still in its infancy.
Volocopter, a German company, has advertised the VoloCity craft as the world’s first commercially licensed electrically driven air taxi, an aircraft that will potentially operate without the need for a pilot. Just one passenger will be able to travel on VoloCity. Volocopter aims to gain customer interest before switching to a fully autonomous model that is an electronic, wingless craft powered by nine batteries that will transport passengers through a proposed network of vertiports — airports for planes that take off and land vertically across major cities. The first commercial flights from VoloCity are expected to begin in 2022.
The AeroMobil is the next step in the development of the supercar. The AeroMobil is a high-end vehicle model that is equally at home on the road or in the sky as a flying car. It is inspired by the legendary winged horse Pegasus. The AeroMobil accomplishes what no supercar or private jet can: it combines cutting-edge automotive and aerospace design and engineering, advanced materials, luxurious features, and impeccable styling. In under three minutes, it can turn from car to aircraft — from driving to flying. The AeroMobil is scheduled to release as a cool and sophisticated flying car in early 2023, setting new standards for innovation, driver and passenger experience, and safety.
Providing Critical Care to Remote Locations
The evolution of flying cars is a great step towards building aircraft that can carry goods and services to places where existing aviation can’t — mountain tops, deserts, etc. This would mean a major upgrade to air ambulances and deliveries to risky places. Given the scope of the project, research teams would need to consider and test a wide range of variables, including aircraft, airspace, facilities, community integration, weather conditions, GPS, noise levels, repair, supply chain, and parts procurement. It’s a long list that shows a slew of issues, some of which aren’t immediately apparent, that must be addressed before aerial travel at such a scale can become a reality.