Category: Technology

by Thursday.09.Feb53

It’s easy to think that our fascination with flying cars is a recent phenomenon. However, way back in 1940, Henry Ford famously predicted: “Mark my word: a combination airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come.”

Ex-NASA man, Mark Moore, has joined Uber’s Elevate division as director of engineering for aviation.

So the news this week that Uber has hired a ‘flying car’ engineer from Nasa, feels like a real step towards making Ford’s predictions come true.

Mark Moore joined Uber’s Elevate division as director of engineering for aviation. Commenting on his appointment, the company said that It welcomed its wider role was as a catalyst to the “growing VTOL ecosystem”.

Uber, which is already investing in self-driving cars, with partnerships with Volvo and Daimler, outlined its interest in flying cars in a White Paper published last October called Fast-Forwarding to a Future of On-Demand Urban Air Transportation.

The 98-page White Paper details Uber Elevate’s vision for ‘on-demand’ vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aviation. An extract reads: “Just as skyscrapers allowed cities to use limited land more efficiently, urban air transportation will use three-dimensional airspace to alleviate transportation congestion on the ground.” It proposes a network of small, electric VTOL aircraft that “will enable rapid, reliable transportation between suburbs and cities and, ultimately, within cities.”

Of course, it’s not just Uber that sees the potential here. More than a dozen companies, with as many different design approaches, are all working to make VTOLs a reality.

Terrafugia claims its TF-X will be ready to take to the skies by 2018.

Naturally, many are American, such as Joby Aviation with its S2 and S4 concepts; Airbus A³, the company’s advanced projects and partnerships division, with its Vahana concept; and Terrafugia’s TF-X. But the race is a truly international one, with Slovakian company AeroMobil, for example, aiming to commercialise its prototype flying car this year.

As the name suggests, AeroMobil is remaining true to the flying car dream. The publicity material on its site says, “AeroMobil is a flying car that perfectly makes use of existing infrastructure created for automobiles and planes, and opens doors to real door-to-door travel. As a car it fits into any standard parking space, uses regular gasoline, and can be used in road traffic just like any other car. As a plane it can use any airport in the world, but can also take off and land using any grass strip or paved surface just a few hundred meters long.”

AeroMobil concept can use existing infrastructure, which would make production far easier.

The version we see today, AeroMobil 3.0, has certainly come a long way since version 1.0 back in 1990. In fact version 3.0 has been in regular flight-testing program in real flight conditions since October 2014.

The AeroMobil 3.0 is predominantly built from advanced composite material and contains all the main features that are likely to be incorporated into the final product, such as avionics equipment, autopilot and an advanced parachute deployment system (phew!).

Safety is of course a massive concern with the prospect of either manned or un-manned flying cars mixing it up in our skies, along with Amazon delivery drones and military spy bots! So it’s little surprise that safety is one of the 11 ‘Market Feasibility Barriers’ Uber has identified that will need to be addressed before making its dream a reality.

History’s littered with ‘nearly-men’ and the dream of flying cars is no different – just ask the Moller Skycar M400. But recent technological advances combined with a renewed hunger, plus some pretty substantial budgets, mean we’re closer than ever to turning science fiction into science fact.

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