Where is my flying car?

By 2015, we were all supposed to be driving flying cars and riding on hover boards.

The hover boards made it, in a way.

In most major cities you’ll see people flying around on big skateboards with orange wheels, overtaking cyclists and slow-moving cars at will.

Their boards may not hover, but they do power themselves, at speeds of up to 25mph.

Most of these boards can travel over ten miles on a single charge, and they’re much more practical for city commuting and storage than a bike, car or moped. So long as you avoid the pot holes.

So in the hover board sense, I think we’ve actually got Back to the Future II’s vision beaten.

Flying cars, however, is where we fall down. But not for long.

Rolls-Royce’s flying taxi is almost ready to demo

A couple of days ago, Rolls-Royce announced it is working on a flying taxi. Or a hybrid electric vertical take-off and landing (EVTOL) vehicle, as it’s calling it.

Here’s a concept shot:

Source: Rolls-Royce

“The design could be adapted for personal transport, public transport, logistics and military applications and is based upon technologies that already exist or are currently under development. It could take to the skies as soon as the early 2020s,” says Rolls-Royce.

It will reach speeds of 250mph, have a range of 500 miles and carry up to five passengers. So it could take you from London to Paris and back, without refuelling.

Its wings rotate 90 degrees so that it can take off and land vertically in many places ordinary planes could not. Think helipads or even gardens.

It’s not really electric, however. The gas turbines power the electric motors. Rolls-Royce says pure electric planes aren’t powerful enough yet. But it expects this to change in the next few years.

“All-electric is the way to hop around within a city, but if you want to travel 200 or 300 miles… then you are going to want to run something that will give you that range,” says Rob Watson, head of Rolls-Royce’s electrical team.

Aston Martin’s “ultimate luxury mobility solution”

This week Aston Martin also unveiled its own flying car concept, which it so happens, was made in collaboration with Rolls-Royce.

This one is much closer to the flying car vision from Back to the Future II. It is designed for everyday journeys around town. But in the sky.

Source: Aston Martin

Aston Martin believes its flying car will change the way we commute.

“Humans have always spent on average, one hour commuting to and from work. The distance we live from our workplace has been determined by the methods of transportation available. The Volante Vision Concept will enable us to travel further with our hourly commute, meaning we are able to live further away from where we work. Cities will grow, and towns that are today too far away from cities to be commutable will become suburban,” said Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer.

Unlike Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin hasn’t put any kind of timeframe on its flying car. But it does make sense that it’s luxury carmakers who’ve been first to jump on this flying car tech.

At first flying cars will be hideously expensive playthings of the rich. However, as time goes on, prices will fall, and ordinary people will get their turn to fly too.

At least, that’s the way things like this usually go. That’s the usual narrative, right?

But perhaps not this time around. That’s because one of the major players in the flying car game is Uber. And Uber makes its money from mass adoption.

Uber will let us “rideshare in the sky” by 2023

In May, Uber revealed its own flying taxi concept, UberAir. The most striking thing about this was that Uber claims the cost will be comparable to getting a normal Uber.

Given the choice of flying or driving down to the cinema, for the same price, I know which I’d pick.

At first its flying taxis will be piloted, but eventually the pilots will be phased out and replaced by computers.

Uber’s plan is already extensive. Its flying taxis will take off and land from “skyports”, either on buildings or standalone, which will handle up to 200 take-offs and landings an hour.

The flying taxis will also be extremely safe (it claims) because it has more rotors than it needs to fly. So if one rotor fails, it’s no big deal.

The UberAirs will be all-electric, have a range of around 60 miles and a top speed of 200 mph. Batteries will be swapped out upon landing, so there will be no waiting around for it to charge.

If you want to know more, you can read Uber’s 97-page whitepaper on the project here.

Uber has a lot of companies on board helping get its concept off the ground. It even collaborated with NASA on new air-traffic control systems.

As a result, it’s moving fast. It will start testing in 2020 and roll out its full service in LA and Dallas-Fort Worth in 2023. In the meantime, it’s looking for a third “international” city to launch in.

I doubt this will be London, given Uber’s ongoing spat with the city. But you never know.

The biggest takeaway from all this is that flying cars are coming, and much sooner than most people realise.

Whether people will actually use them is another matter.

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

Category: Technology

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