Tech

Flying Cars: Pipe Dream or Near-Future Reality?

Flying cars felt like a futuristic dream when we were children – back in the days of dial-up internet, video rental shops and house phones. While we pictured what we thought the future would look like, we probably didn’t think it would become a reality in our lifetimes and never could have imagined some of the technological advances that would have already been made.

Although, some did expect this sooner than others. When the 1982 movie Blade Runner was released it was set almost 40 years in the future – November 2019. It featured, among other futuristic elements, flying cars. But it was actually decades before this, in 1940, when Henry Ford, said: “Mark my words – a combination aeroplane and motor car is coming.”

We may not all be taking to the sky in our vehicles just yet, but we really might not be far off.

Flying cars already on sale

The first commercial flying car went on sale in 2017. The Liberty Sport and Liberty Pioneer was created by Dutch Vehicle manufacturer, PAL-V. The two-seater cars take just 10 minutes to go from driving to flying, can travel for 310 miles on a full tank and will reach speeds of up to 112mph. Speaking to the Independent, CEO Robert Dingemanse said: “After years of hard work, beating the technical and qualification challenges, our team succeeded in creating an innovative flying car that complies with existing safety standards determined by regulatory bodies around the world.”

Although you need to have some serious money in the bank – these flying cars aren’t cheap. They will set you back significantly more than the vehicle sat on your driveway at the moment. The Sport is $400,000 and the Pioneer a whopping $600,000.

Likewise, Porche and Boeing have teamed up to create a flying car. Detlev von Platen, a Porsche AG executive board member, said: “Porsche is looking to enhance its scope as a sports car manufacturer by becoming a leading brand for premium mobility. In the longer term, this could mean moving into the third dimension of travel. We are combining the strengths of two leading global companies to address a potential key market segment of the future.”

Creating a ‘new traffic ecosystem’

Meanwhile, Vodafone has signed a deal with Chinese flying car company EHang. It will supply the sim cards and 5G networks to connect drones in Germany. Speaking to the Financial Times, founder Hu Huazhi said: “This is a significant step forward in advancing urban air mobility in Europe, with the goal being to create a new traffic ecosystem.”

He said it will be: “A key infrastructure component for the commercial deployment of autonomous aerial vehicles, since it enables take-offs and landings that are precisely controlled within centimetres”.

A significant number of test flights have already taken place, especially in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou while the telecoms company is in talks to develop an air traffic control, drone management. This isn’t expected to launch until 2025, however, the same year that South Korea intends to also start testing flying cars.

2025 set to be a key year

So, it looks like 2025 could be the year that this really builds momentum. Especially after a Porsche Consulting study forecasted that the ‘urban air mobility market will pick up speed after 2025.’

Chris Adams, Operations Director at Brindley Garages Group UK agrees they are – quite literally – on the rise. He said: “Flying cars. The stuff of sci-fi and kids’ imaginations – or so you’d think. Over the past twelve months, several start-ups have made public plans to launch flying vehicles, raising hopes that airborne cars could be closer than we dared to dream.

“Indeed, this October, German start-up Volocopter tested its first flying air-taxi in Singapore, with the drone-like electric aircraft making a three-minute flight over the Asian metropolis. Some experts have billed Volocopter’s ‘passenger drone’ as the future of commercial air travel, and the company hopes to establish permanent routes in Singapore and Dubai in the coming years.

“And it isn’t just start-ups showing an interest in the possibility of airborne vehicles. Global firms like Boeing, Airbus and Uber have also been exploring the technology, with the latter indicating that journeys by flying electric vehicles could be a reality by 2023.

“But what of privately-owned flying cars? Can we expect landing pads to replace driveways in the near future? We think not. While tech firms are closer to making flying cars a reality, it’s unlikely that they’ll replace traditional four-wheel cars for the foreseeable.

“In our experience, affordability and safety remain top of the priority list when buying a new car, and it’s hard to imagine flying vehicles meeting these requirements any time soon. What’s more, there are likely to be infrastructure challenge and difficulties of maintaining safe roads in the sky – perhaps only flying buses on set routes will arrive in our lifetime.”

Flying cars could even be greener. A study in Nature found that they could actually cut emissions and avoid congestion on our roads. Interestingly, over 62 miles, flying cars will be about 35% more efficiently.

Cost and infrastructure barriers

However, there are many reasons why we may still be booking cheap flights for the foreseeable future rather than being able to drive flying cars ourselves – with the price just being the start.

Firstly, we don’t currently have the correct infrastructure or regulations. Plus, while the cars themselves may be energy efficient, building them isn’t and then, of course, there are the issues around safety.

This doesn’t mean you can’t experience what it is like to travel in a flying car – just that driving them for yourself might take longer and it looks like we can expect flying taxis ahead of personal vehicles. In fact, Uber is planning to spend €20m developing the technology in France. It plans to launch aerial taxis in Dubai by 2020.

Only time will tell but our roads could look very different in years to come as we fly high above them rather than driving on them.

Chris explained: “Maybe one day soon, Manchester will look more like Mos Eisley, while London will resemble Blade Runner’s LA. No one knows quite what the future holds.”

But, it looks like it could only be five years until we see them really take off.