The Wright Brothers Re-Mixed, Circa 2017
Flying cars have emerged as the shiny new toy for the tech industry in the Spring of 2017. In addition to Uber’s push to launch a fleet of airborne taxis in Dallas and Dubai in the next 36 months, at least five other efforts are generating buzz.
Slovakian startup AeroMobil has started pre-orders for an initial manufacturing run of 500 units. According to New Atlas: “With the curves and presence of a supercar, the AeroMobil should fit in a large car parking space. You can drive it at up to 160 km/h (99 mph) on the road, then pull in to an airport and convert it to a plane at the touch of a button. The conversion process takes less than three minutes, during which the wings fold out, the driven front wheels tuck themselves into the chassis, and a variable pitch pusher prop folds out at the rear.” SXSW 2015 attendees will recall that co-founder Juraj Vaculik gained a lot of attention with his presentation from a few years back in Austin.
Project Vahana (pictured above) is the futuristic effort from the A3 division of Airbus. Comments CEO Tom Enders, “I’m no big fan of Star Wars, but it’s not crazy to imagine that one day our big cities will have flying cars making their way along roads in the sky. In a not too distant future, we’ll use our smartphones to book a fully automated flying taxi that will land outside our front door — without any pilot.”
On April 20, Munich-based startup Lilium Jet has completed the first test flight of its all-electric, two-seater, vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) prototype. Writes The Verge: “During the tests, the jet was piloted remotely, but its operators say their first manned flight is close-at-hand. And Lilium claims that its electric battery “consumes around 90 percent less energy than drone-style aircraft,” enabling the aircraft to achieve a range of 300 kilometers (183 miles) with a maximum cruising speed of 300 kph (183 mph).”
Meanwhile, Kitty Hawk has just revealed an all-electric aircraft prototype that weighs less than 250 pounds. Motor Trend says this technology is more like a rideable drone than a flying car: “The prototype was designed for recreational flying over water and is legal to operate in the U.S. Kitty Hawk says it takes just minutes to learn how to operate the one-seater aircraft, which falls under the Ultralight category of FAA regulations and therefore doesn’t require a pilot’s license or registration.” One of the biggest features of this model is its impressive pedigree — the company is owned by Google co-founder Larry Page.
Leading the spring 2017 parade of next-generation gravity-defying automobiles is Dutch company PAL-V, which began taking orders in February. Notes the company’s press release: “PAL-V deliberately chose to engineer, design and build a flying car with proven technologies and fully compliant with existing regulations. This leads to a first product delivery date that is realistic and imminent.” PAL-V expects North America to be a major market for its flying car.” Purchase one of the company’s Pioneer Editions for a cool $599,000 — the standard model, known as the Liberty Sport, will sell for a more affordable $399,000.
Has the promise of flying cars finally arrived? Probably not — or probably not for several more years, at least. But the shiny new toy syndrome is real and these futuristic vehicles give us a lot of new possibilities to dream about for the decades ahead.
Hugh Forrest tries to write four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts generally cover technology-related trends. When not attempting to wordsmith or meditating, he serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW in Austin.