featured image: NASA

Flying Cars Are In Our Future
And it’s estimated to be within our lifetimes.

Yep, you heard that right! According to Uber Elevate’s Whitepaper, the mainstream of these flying cars, which are called Electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) will be starting as soon as this coming decade.

Before talking more about this, let’s take a step back in time and notice that the concept of flying cars isn’t new. The concept has been around since even before the Jetsons! In fact, according to NASA, the concept has been around since the 1940’s with the use of helicopters. As stated in the paper by Thipphavong et. al, since the 1940’s, both the Los Angeles Airways and New York Airways used helicopters to transport mail and people to various other local areas. However, both companies had to stop flying due to mechanical failures in the 1970’s that resulted in injuries and fatalities.

Today, there is still demand for easing the traffic in the congested areas in urban cities. Right now, there are helicopter services in areas such as New York, New Zealand, and Sao Paulo. Amazon is even testing small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) in England. These are small drones they have been testing out to deliver packages.

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However, Uber through their Uber Elevate division, and NASA, through their Urban Air Mobility (UAM) Grand Challenge project, are both working to create flying cars and taxis for the ‘Average Joe’ to help ease congestion and have it be convenient as well. The first of these available to the public will most likely be crewed by pilots, which will eventually phase out into unmanned vehicles.

Drones, photo by Dominic Hart/NASA

Credit: NASA / Dominic Hart

There are some pros and cons for this venture.

  • Transportation of people and goods with trip times half to less than half that of on-ground transport.
  • Reduction in travel-time uncertainty in urban areas where traffic is high.
  • No effect with road closures and increased capacity of vehicles.
  • Less ground infrastructure that can be quicker and cheaper than building and maintaining groundwork like roads and bridges.
  • Economic Value: though beginning stages may be more costly, according to Uber, the long-term cost is much lower than that of a car today.
  • Security of air traffic management (ATM) will have to include cybersecurity, defining a hybrid airspace, and possibly security and screening.
  • Safety is a concern, especially in highly-populated areas. The Urban Air Mobility (UAM) vehicles will need to be checked for safety more often to reduce risk of in-flight breakdowns and damages.
  • Another big factor is the acceptance from the people. With concerns of privacy, noise, visual distractions, and affordability as well as concerns of an unmanned vehicle present, these concerns need to be addressed and slowly integrated in order to be accepted by the general population.
  • Lastly, an issue that is anticipated to no longer being a problem in the future is the amount of electricity used to power these vehicles. The UAMs and the eVTOLs (flying cars) will be powered by electricity. Right now, that is expensive and takes a lot of energy and the batteries are very heavy. However, with the increase of technology for lighter, more powerful, and long-lasting batteries, this will no longer be a problem soon.

Due to these projects being in the early stages of development, NASA and Uber have been working on making these vehicles available and accepted by the people within the next 10 years. NASA has been taking the approach of “Build, Explore, and Learn” during this period.

What does this mean? Flying cars and taxis may be a reality soon, and more than likely in our lifetimes. Are you ready to live like the Jetsons?

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Sage Sovetky
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