Science or Fiction
Flying Cars Coming to a Driveway Near You?

Flying cars will sound more like fiction than science to the average person in 2017, but a bevy of private companies are hard at work developing the technology to produce fleets of flying automobiles. The AP reports:

[E]ntrepreneurs are moving forward [on flying cars]. They see a vast potential market for “air taxis” and personally owned small aircraft to transport people from the fringes of metropolitan areas to city centers as urban areas grow more congested and people spend more time stuck in traffic. They envision tens of thousands of one or two-person flying taxis delivering passengers to the rooftops of office buildings in city centers and other landing pads during rush hours. […]

Uber released a 98-page report in October making the business case for air taxis, which the company sees as the future of on-demand transportation. Uber doesn’t have any plans to develop a flying car itself, but the online transportation network is advising several companies that have aircraft in the works.

The plans for these flying cars vary widely from company to company. Airbus is designing the “Vahana” as an “air taxi” that would eventually be autonomous. Israel’s Urban Aeronautics is working on flying vehicles that would transport heavy cargo for military use. Germany’s Lilium Aviation is envisioning a small plane powered by fans that would take off vertically, while e-volo is focusing on scaling up the multicopter drones that have recently become the consumer gadget du jour. If you’re interested, you can read more about these and other companies’ approach to this new potential industry here.

These approaches all have different timelines, costs, and potential impacts, and none are close to ushering in the Jetsons-like future we’ve come to associate with flying cars. Anyone involved in this space will have to contend with a simple yet unavoidable fact: it requires a tremendous amount of energy to lift things off of the ground.

And yet, the fact that much of this research is being driven by entrepreneurs suggests that there is a glimmer of hope for some radical changes in our transportation networks—along the z-axis. It’s not time to pre-order your flying car yet, but this certainly qualifies as a technology worth paying attention to. If takes off (no pun intended), it would completely change the infrastructure requirements of our cities, and would require a serious rethink of the way we work and live. We’ll be watching.

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