All posts in “Flying Cars”

Dubai’s self-flying taxis are primed for takeoff later this year

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The “Future City” is about to add another space-age service you won’t find anywhere else in the world: autonomous passenger drones. 

Dubai’s much-hyped autonomous aerial taxi (AAT) service, which made waves back in February when it was announced as part of its World Government Summit, is finally, officially on track. The city’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) just announced a new testing schedule for the program and signed a new a new deal with German aviation company Volocopter, which will provide the aircraft for the program.

The autonomous drone taxis will fly passengers on predetermined routes throughout the city, serving as more of a sky shuttle service than a true go-anywhere taxi. The test period will start sometime during the fourth quarter of this year, and the RTA expects to continue on a trial basis for about five years until the proper legislation is in place for a bigger expansion.

The first version of the air taxi project used the Ehang 184, a 500-pound, single-seat passenger drone. The Dubai RTA didn’t say why it was now switching to Volocopter aircraft but touted the company’s reputation for safety. The craft that will be used in the trials, the Volocopter 2X, is a two-seater, which could give it the edge over the smaller single-passenger Ehang.  

The crafts are fully electric, with 18 rotors and nine independent battery systems that can pick up the slack to keep the craft in the air if anything fails mid-flight. Volocopter claims the quick-charge battery can be fully juiced in as little as 40 minutes for a max flight time of about 30 minutes. That’s at the standard cruising speed of 50 km/h (around 30 mph) and a top speed of 100 km/h (about 62 mph).

A rendering of one of the autonomous air taxis in flight.

A rendering of one of the autonomous air taxis in flight.

Image: volocopter

The project was originally slated to begin next month, but the RTA pushed the trial period to the fourth quarter of the year to make sure the system is truly ready before the crafts take to the air. The RTA said it’s working closely with the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority to iron out legislative and operational guidelines, along with more exact standards for potential taxi service operators to have all the pieces in place before the “commercial and official operation” of the AATs.

This is just the start for flying taxis, with companies like Airbus rolling out their own projects — but Dubai is ahead of the curve. The city is lined up as one of the first two targets for Uber’s flying car initiative, with plans to have a working prototype and possibly even passenger flights as part of Dubai’s Expo 2020 event. 

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Check out how easy it’ll be to hail one of Airbus’ conceptual autonomous flying taxis

Hailing a flying taxi will someday be as easy as pulling out your phone and pressing a button. 

That’s the future presented by a number of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft projects, and major transportation movers and shakers, most notably Uber and its partners, have outlined plans to take the ride hailing services currently stuck on the ground to put them in the skies.   

One of the busiest companies in the space is Airbus, which just dropped a new video of its autonomous flying taxi hailing project. The video is just a CG demo of the concept, but it’s still an exciting vision of the future of mobility.  

Vahana is one of the legs of Airbus’ three-tiered A³ initiative, which is focused on developing future-forward aviation projects. The company’s CEO Tom Enders said in January that Airbus was aiming to have a working prototype by the end of this year.  

The video shows how easy it is for Deborah, a Californian looking for a quick commute between San Jose and San Francisco. Not sure exactly what kind of future OS Deborah is using on that future phone, but the system doesn’t look too far removed from the user experience on apps like Uber and Lyft today.

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It might not be a full-blown multi-modal system like some further-flung Airbus concepts we’ve seen or a true flying car, which are looking less and less likely given the projects currently in development, but it looks impressive nonetheless. 

There’s not much information available about the project, or any news on the status of the prototype that Enders said was projecting by the end of the year. The company will have something to show next week at the Paris Air Show, according to The Verge, although it’s unclear exactly what that will bring other than the video.

The Vahana concept shows off an exciting future, but the rendering is still a ways off from reality. Driverless flying taxis have already appeared in Dubai, however, where the Ehang 184 was demoed during the city’s World Government Summit back in February. The service is projected to start full time there next month. 

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Uber plans to have its flying car ready by 2020

Uber’s flying car plans are coming together — and it looks like it won’t be taking to the skies alone.

The company’s aspiration to build an urban air transportation network took a major leap on Tuesday with its Elevate Summit event in Dallas. The three-day conference was billed as a chance to spread the news about Uber’s plans for its flying cars and “identify and accelerate opportunities to collaborate within the community,” boasting a diverse line-up of presenters with backgrounds ranging from NASA and public office to CEOs of aerospace companies. 

Uber first outlined its concept for an autonomous, on-demand flight system, dubbed Uber Elevate, in a white paper released last October. That plan depends on the development of electric vertical take-off and landing aircrafts, or eVTOLs, along with the infrastructure to make catching a flying cab just as easy as hailing a normal car. The company also hired veteran NASA engineer Mark Moore back in February to help spearhead the project’s development.

Uber’s Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden opened the Elevate event with a wide-ranging keynote address, covering the current state of Uber’s project, its existing partnerships with aerospace companies and even cities, and the bold goal of debuting a prototype of a craft by 2020. “Flying cars have been promised for decades, but are arriving now,” he said, staking out the company’s aggressive goal to make flying cars a reality.

Holden’s keynote rehashed many of the details the company previously published in its white paper, as he showed off some of the same figures and charts touting Uber’s current ride sharing system and its nascent plans to develop a functional flying vehicle and urban aviation system. 

The big news from the keynote is the partnerships the company has or is pursuing to actually build the network, taking it from “the notional to the concrete,” as Holden said. Uber has “begun conversations” about partnering with NASA and the FAA about development and testing for the air traffic systems needed to make Elevate possible, and Holden touted speakers from both agencies slated to present at the conference. 

“We’re going to see how fast we can make this a reality.”

He also announced partnerships with aviation companies that already have eVTOL systems in development, including Bell Helicopter, Aurora, Embraer and Mooney, to help develop the flying vehicles. Holden said the eVTOLs would first be manned, but eventually could become fully autonomous. There’s also an agreement in place with Charge Point to develop the batteries and charging infrastructure needed for a wide eVTOL network. 

To cap off the keynote, Holden announced the eVTOL operations will launch in Dallas, with a goal to kick off the program by 2021. Uber will begin developing the physical infrastructure — landing pads called “vertiports”— needed for the system in the city as early as next year.

The project will expand internationally to Dubai, which has already proven to be primed for air taxi service. There, Uber will partner with the city’s Road and Transport Authority to develop the network. The current goal is to have a working prototype or even conduct passenger flights as part of the planned Expo 2020 event in the city. 

“We’re going to see how fast we can make this a reality,” Holden said to close his remarks. “We know this is possible, we know this is going to happen.” 

These plans and partnerships are undeniably exciting — if Uber can stick to its projected schedule, we could have a flying car before some automakers are even projected to roll out their self-driving systems on the road. 

But this is all speculative. As Uber’s efforts in that self-driving space have shown, “move fast and break things” isn’t always the best method to develop paradigm-shifting technology. We’ll remain cautiously optimistic until the day we see the flying cars zooming overhead.

WATCH: Freak out over this video of the coolest flying car yet

Let’s face it: Flying cars are never going to be a thing

No, you will not one day take a flying car to work. 

Flying cars — thrust back into the spotlight thanks to the unveiling of Larry Page’s Kitty Hawk Flyer — have long resided in the realm of science fiction. And, let’s be real, will probably stay that way for the foreseeable future. No matter what the latest and richest tech CEO claims, possessing a single device that functions as both a car and a plane will only serve to make you the proud owner of a bad automobile and a worse aircraft. 

Because while yes, the two types of vehicles are both designed to transport people, they do it in fundamentally different ways (duh). Being good at one sort of precludes you from being excelling at the other. And there’s the rub — who’s going to buy a janky flying car when a perfectly safe self-driving car will do (as it soon will). 

We need only look back to the 1960s to see why the use of flying cars will never catch on. Industry has tried combining disparate forms of transportation before, and it worked out as poorly then as it would today.  

Take, for example, the Amphicar Model 770. Almost 4,000 of these boat/car hybrids were produced between 1961 and 1965, yet the idea never caught on. Perhaps one contributing factor is that the Amphicar neither excelled as a car (topping out around 70 mph) nor as a boat (it frequently leaked).  

“We like to think of it as the fastest car on the water and fastest boat on the road,” John Hein, the owner of one such monster, once put it.

Another Amphicar enthusiast, President Lyndon Johnson, used it to prank unsuspecting passengers by driving into a lake while he complained about the brakes. This is exactly the sweet spot a flying car would land in today: impractical, inefficient, and merely a plaything of the rich. 

In the clouds

Now, you may be shaking your head and saying “but wait, flying cars already exist!” And sure, that’s true. The Slovakian startup AeroMobil intends to sell a vehicle that doubles as both a plane and a car by 2020, but you’re never going to take one to work. How can I be so sure? Well, just like with a more traditional plane, the AeroMobil needs a runway to take off. 

Do you have one of those in your backyard? How about a landing strip at work? Didn’t think so. 

Also, the AeroMobil is expected to cost between €1.2 million and €1.5 million ($1.3 million and $1.6 million). You could buy a single-engine Cessna and any number of cars for less than that. 

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So if not the AeroMobil, what about something smaller like Google co-founder Larry Page’s KittyHawk? While that newly unveiled device does fly, it’s designed to only operate over water and is more bumper-boat than car. 

A prototype vehicle from Lilium Aviation comes closer to the dream with its vertical take-off and landing, but it’s essentially an electric plane. Crucially, can you imagine 45,000 of these flying over New York City? The NYPD would have a heart attack.

Back down to Earth

While traditional ground-based cars have their own safety problems, flying cars present an entirely new set of concerns. 

“If somebody doesn’t maintain their flying car, it could drop a hubcap and guillotine you,” observed Elon Musk in an interview with Bloomberg. “Your anxiety level will not decrease as a result of things that weigh a lot buzzing around your head.”

And that doesn’t even touch on the air-traffic control nightmare that a sky full of people texting and flying would represent. 

If you really want to fly something, your best bet is still going to be to get a pilot’s license. If you’re just looking to cut down on your commute and had hoped flying cars might provide the answer, try moving closer to the office. It’s a time-tested approach guaranteed to deliver results. 

This is all to say that while the technology for personal flying cars may be just around the corner, or even already here, the vehicles themselves are never going to be adopted on a meaningful scale — no matter how much you want them to. 

WATCH: Airbus’ new flying car concept looks like it’s straight out of ‘The Jetsons’

Larry Page’s flying car project finally takes to the air

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Google co-founder Larry Page has reportedly been working on a flying car project for some time now — and today, the world finally got its first official look.

The Kitty Hawk Flyer made its debut in a YouTube video (naturally) showing the craft’s propellor-based aviation system zipping above water.

In a statement given to the New York Times, Page said, “We’ve all had dreams of flying effortlessly. I’m excited that one day very soon I’ll be able to climb onto my Kitty Hawk Flyer for a quick and easy personal flight.”

Kitty Hawk apparently has aims that go beyond just amateur pilots.

“The Kitty Hawk Flyer is a new, all-electric aircraft. It is safe, tested and legal to operate in the United States in uncongested areas under the Ultralight category of FAA regulations,” reads the text under the promo video. “We’ve designed our first version specifically to fly over water. You don’t need a pilot’s license and you’ll learn to fly it in minutes.”

This might not be exactly what we were expecting from Page’s flying car project — it looks to be more of a manned drone for lake recreation than a full-on, land-to-air vehicle — but for now, it’s an exciting place to start.

WATCH: Freak out over this video of the coolest flying car yet