29-12-2017 | Redacción CEU
For decades, comics, movies and cartoons have stimulated the dreams of different generations about flying aboard a car. They promised the arrival of those cars more or less similar to those that circulate today in the streets but a few centimeters elevated from the ground to thresholds that crossed the limits of the stratosphere. Surfing the skies by car has always been one of the great dreams of humanity. A fantasy that was, until now, only within the reach of aircraft pilots. Car companies seem to be increasingly interested in rescuing these futuristic vehicles capable of flying over firm ground without giving up their tires from fiction. Will one day be possible to pilot a compact car?
Most mortals raise their eyebrows, open their eyes widely or press their lips together hard so that a laugh does not escape when they hear a visionary friend talk about the flying car arrival. Although some other times he errs, on this occasion, the dreamer colleague could be right in his prediction. At least, that is believed by about thirty companies that work in the flying cars' design and development. They compete to be the first firm to transfer the fiction of the cars that circulate in the sky, in a reality. Some of these brands even promise to commercialize them very soon, will they be able to reach this "high" goal?
When the minutes pass and the cars do not advance, many drivers stuck on the road fantasize with the idea of flying out of a jam with a snap of fingers, especially, those who suffer the consequences of facing daily traffic congestion. Uber is one of the companies that want to transform this desire into a reality. With the UberAIR program, the firm puts on the table a service of flying taxis as an alternative to conventional transport on wheels. As of 2020, the inhabitants of Los Angeles, the second most populated city in the US, could enjoy this aircraft service. At least that is the date that the company has planned to carry out the first tests. An announcement that takes place in the framework of the agreement for the development of the Unmanned Aerial System Traffic Management (UTM) that Uber has recently conclude with NASA. The company also plans to implement this transgressive model in Dallas and Dubai.
Uber has not precisely developed a car that is capable of flying, but the firm instead uses a vertical takeoff aircraft with similar design to a helicopter but silent and electric –and that over time they plan to be autonomous–. In any case, the company sets a precedent in the marketing model of this type of service and also opens a door to a new market to be explored. On its behalf, Airbus also works on a very similar urban air taxi project known as CityAirbus, which some identify as a "quadrocopter" or a "drone taxi" and that has already set its first flight by the end of 2018.
The American company Samson Motors is one of the brands that plans to launch a hybrid prototype that allows their drivers to travel on the road and fly it in the air. Its bet is a two-seater three-wheels automobile powered by a 1.6-liter V4 engine and 190 HP, known under the name of Samson Switchblade. These vehicles are able to deploy their wings and tail in three minutes, from occupying 5.1 meters in length to 6.2 meters. Although they only have space for a small load –little more than 22 kilograms–, their weight and power are similar to the one of a 2017 Chevrolet Corvette. They have a flight range of 724 kilometers and are capable of reaching 321 km/h in the air, on the road, the range is reduced to 160 km/h. The model will be launched on the market this 2018 with a price of 102,000 euros. However, until now, the license of these flying cars is the one of an experimental prototype and customers have the responsibility to assemble half of the vehicle –the firm offers assistance service to carry it out–.
The Japanese startup Cartivator, backed by Toyota, will have the opportunity to light the cauldron of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 with their flying car model. Toyota wants this car prototype to be ready to make the first flight this 2018. This way, besides competing in the race of a flying vehicle development, they will also have the opportunity to prepare everything that is necessary to market this car when this global event is celebrated. Without a doubt, if they succeed in the flying car debut, the impact in the presence of millions of spectators can be spectacular. What better campaign than the presentation of a flying car at the opening of the Olympic Games?
This project is called Skydrive and tries to put in the air the smallest flying car in the world, it is only 2.9 meters long, 1.30 meters wide and 1.10 meters high. These measures give this vehicle a futuristic look where the driver pilots practically lying down. This automobile design resembles a drone that rises ten meters over the air. In fact, the mechanical engineer that is leading the group of thirty volunteers that are working on the development of this vehicle of the future is a professor from the Tokushima University who is an expert in drones.
The Chinese company Geely, owner of the Volvo company, announced last month the acquisition of the assets of Terrafugia, a startup focused on the flying cars development that plans to launch to the US market in 2019 its first vehicle capable of flying. Among its prototypes, the TF-X model stands out. This flying car has deployable wings, electric motor, has capacity to transport four people and does not need a professional pilot for its piloting. They are controlled through a central computer where passengers indicate the route and this system traces it in an autonomous way. This vehicle is considered the first flying car that is able to perform a vertical takeoff and landing.
These are some of the examples of how the automotive industry could change the course, from the highway to the sky. Flying cars promise to turn utopias into reality. The obstacles on the horizon: legislation, investment and the limits of creativity. Like the electric or the autonomous cars, these vehicles will be luxury articles for a few years but, perhaps, in some decades, cars will reach the clouds.