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End of roads: meet the flying cars of the future!

Flying cars are a reality today and ready to take off faster than you think

brunch Updated: Jul 15, 2017 21:47 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Vahana, the personal mobility flying car from Airbus looks promising
Vahana, the personal mobility flying car from Airbus looks promising

Although we’ve come/ To the end of the road
Still I can’t let go/ It’s unnatural

-Lyrics of End Of The Road by Boyz II Men

I wonder if the band Boyz II Men knew they were predicting the future. While they were talking about a relationship coming to an end, they nailed it in more ways than one. The end of roads is just around the next corner. Think about it. What’s the biggest bottleneck in moving humans from one place to another? Roads! Too narrow, poorly planned, get waterlogged very quickly and a dozen other major problems. What if we could get rid of roads forever?

For that we need flying cars. And away from silly fantasy, poorly conceived sci-fi movies and terrible hobbyist prototypes – the flying car is moving very quickly towards reality. While self-driving cars are getting all the headline, real flying cars are silently taking off.

AeroMobil

AeroMobil’s flying car has stunning interiors

This is the flying car that has everyone really excited as its already a working model. Slovakia-based company AeroMobil has a ready to fly car and is currently taking bookings. The stunning looking car has interiors that can rival any luxury car. It converts to a flying vehicle and is equipped with folding wings that can swing out in less than three minutes.

Terrafugia

Terrafugia has the most futuristic-looking car

By far the most futuristic looking of them all. USA based Terrafugia claims its TF-X will be ready to take to the skies within 1 year. The designs include fold-out wings and helicopter-like rotor blades and will have a cruising speed of around 322 kmph. Terrafugia says its aim is to provide ‘true door-to-door transportation’ with a vertical take off that needs no roads at all.

PAL-V

The Pal-V is already taking bookings

Once again no hot air claims for this one too. The PAL-V Liberty already flies and can be booked right now. Not as futuristic looking as the others, the Liberty comes with a three-wheel design that takes about 10 minutes to morph from a car to a flying machine. The Liberty can gain an altitude of about 3000 metres and speeds of about 200kmph.

Uber

Uber may have hit rock bottom in terms of the internal workings but is flying very high with its plans for having drone like taxi that will come and pick you up from your roof. Just use the app, choose a Uber car or a Uber Elevate Drone and get to your destination within minutes. The vertical take off and landing denotes that the vehicle needs no roads or ground space to operate. Uber may have the first ones out by 2020.

Kitty Hawk

This is that exciting piece of equipment that may fructify before any other. Backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, footage of the Kitty Hawk Flyer is already out and it seems to be in advanced stages of operation. An all electric aircraft currently designed to operate over water and expected to have a water and land flight version soon - this may well be one of the easier solutions to our no road dream.

Volocopter

The Volocopter is part helicopter and part drone

This is part helicopter, part drone and a full dream turned into reality. It so real that Dubai has started the world’s first test run of autonomous air taxis with the Volocopter 2X model. The test runs start at the end of this year itself. The vehicle itself runs on electric only motors, has 18 rotors and completely intelligent autonomous control system. Maybe when you’re in Dubai in a year or two, a taxi ride to the top of the Burj Khalifa could well be part of the trip.

Lilium

This can do what no other one can. Take off vertically in a drone like fashion and then convert to a wing borne aircraft. A two seater prototype did a trial run and was able to complete complicated manoeuvres with extreme ease. The Munich-based Lilium is backed by investors who include Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström.

Airbus

By far the biggest challenge undertaken is by Airbus, the European aerospace giant. Its made solving the airborne human problem the biggest test for its new technology accelerator, A3. It already has 3 flying car concepts. The most promising one is the Vahana, their personal mobility flying car. Its even showcased an air drone powered flying car at the Geneva Motor Show.

Lots of other big players now out in the market and each is approaching the problem with different solutions. Still, its not all hunky dory in the flying car club. Rules and regulations for flying cars including how to have control over air space is the biggest problem.

Still, it seems that this is an idea whose time has come. It may not be too long before we can say the exact same thing that Doc said to Marty in the 1985 movie Back to the Future. “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads”

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, July 16, 2017

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