Revolutionizing Urban Mobility with Flying Vehicles: Electric Cars Taking Flight
The Vision of Electric Flying Cars for Urban Mobility
A flying car, or driving airplane, is a vehicle built to be attuned for not only driving on land but also taking off in vertical flight. Ideally, this automobile would be completely electric. The purpose of flying cars is to be able to facilitate the decongestion of traffic—particularly in large metropolitan cities and countries that suffer from overcrowding. It would allow people to avoid traffic jams and ease the over-usage of freeways and roads.
It would reduce commuting times and simplify traffic on the ground. These vehicles could act as personal aerial cars, which would allow passengers to travel door-to-door by any means. Theoretically, flying cars would be able to easily morph between car and plane form. Navigation would be facilitated through the same GPS satellites that digital maps use. They would be able to drive and fly themselves. The only task the passenger would have would be to enter the destination they wish to get to.
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Technological Advancements and Challenges in Aerial Transportation
This new technology is changing the aviation industry. It is forcing aerospace engineers to think of new technologies that fly in unconventional ways. In order to develop flying cars, engineers are forced to come up with new solutions, such as advanced aeronautical propulsion systems, improved stability and control models, and new reconsiderations of the different types of situations and flight patterns that these cars might inevitably face in the sky. “It’s time to rethink a lot about aviation,” says René Landry, an aviation systems researcher at ETS, a technical university in Montreal.
“The avionics we use now are based on a general architecture that was developed during World War II. The development of flying cars is forcing the aerospace industry to evolve and grow beyond the same defense weapons they are conditioned to make. Flying cars is a chance for an industry full of old, white men to reconsider the same old science they have been utilizing for the past decades into a new technology that is not only exciting and innovative but also has an ever-growing need for in a world facing overpopulation and intense crowding.
Flying cars are often perceived as a faraway concept, something more likely to pop up in our Hollywood movies than to be seen on our freeways. This, however, is a preconceived misconception. All the technology required to achieve this automobile is present and being further developed by startups and large companies. The idea is more faraway than the actual product is. Another way of thinking of it is that these are actually just driving planes.
Among such companies working on flying cars are Terrafugia and Bell. Terrafugia already has orders and is scheduled to start releasing them this year. Another company working extensively on aerial car technology is Uber. Uber announced that it would release UberAir in 2023. This product would be an electric car that would lift off and land vertically. Uber argues that this vertical lift-off automobile is the best design for flying cars. But they are more seeking to establish a flying taxi service. For example, Uber is working on an “Elevate” concept, which allows people to ride a flying car next to a very high tower, and It would take them up the tower. This flying car would be electrically powered, quieter, and cheaper than the use of helicopters.
More and more aerospace startups are popping up throughout the country—and even the world. For example, startups like Karem are working to develop electric propulsion for flying cars. They are working on RPM rotors, which adjust their power output depending on the situation. For short flights, such as a trip a typical commuter would take, can easily be powered by the electric propulsion technology available today.
Companies Shaping the Future of Aerial Mobility
Companies working on flying cars, like Uber, are trying to implement electric propulsion in their vehicles. Electric propulsion is cleaner and more reliable than combustion engines, which are used for our present-day cars on land. Electric propulsion would be an easy technology to control because it is simpler than other types of propulsion. In fact, there is research currently being done at USC on how to increase battery energy to allow aircraft to fly, fully functioning from electric propulsion. A car would need even less than what an aircraft would need, so this would be a good choice of automobile to test electric propulsion on before implementing it eventually in commercial aircraft.
Among the companies working on these aerial taxis, Uber is the most notable in that it is working to redefine the way passengers travel by adding aerial vehicles as one of the possible and viable modes of transportation to the everyday passenger/commuter. The company plans on launching this taxi service in major metropolitan cities like Los Angeles and Dallas by 2023. In the beginning, these flying taxis would be flown by pilots, but eventually, they would be completely self-autonomous vehicles.
Terrafugia is working on the TF-2, a flying car that you would see in the movies, the vertical takeoff and landing car, which is also electrically powered. They claim that it is capable of flying 1,000 pounds of cargo over a 200-mile range at a speed of 125 mph. This would come out to about $30 for every 10 minutes of flight. The TF-2 would ideally be able to take passengers from county to county, house to house, or to a nearby airport.
Navigating Regulation and Paving the Way for Urban Air Mobility
It is impractical to assume that the people operating these cars are pilots. Similarly, it would be impractical to assume that these pilots could control multiple rotors at once while simultaneously maintaining an acute awareness of navigation and communications. Hence, the best solution for these flying cars is for them to be controlled by computers. This simplifies the operation of managing the car and turns drivers into passengers. The autonomous technology utilized by the military for drones can easily be implemented into commercial flying cars. For example, software for flight planning will need to be developed for the different situations that flying cars might face in the skies.
A network will need to be developed. Flying cars will not need people to be licensed pilots at all, for they will be autonomous vehicles. There are many autonomous aviation systems, so having these flying cars be self-flying is a very valid possibility since all the technology is there. To earn one’s driver’s license in California, for example, INSERT NUMBER of hours are required prior to the driver’s test. In contrast, only 20 hours of flight are needed to earn a Light-Sport license. So, it wouldn’t take much for people to pursue this license, which would help the market grow.
The equipment that in the past only airliners used to be able to afford is now easily found at any store—like altimeters or GPS navigation. Sensors are being developed to be more reliable and cheaper to manufacture, as are automated control systems. There is a concern that these flying cars would be too loud and cause too much noise constantly. There is a technology that Uber is working on a noise reduction aircraft in which the car’s noise blends in with that noise already existing in the city.
Uber argues that “argues that a reduction of 15 decibels will bring aircraft clatter down to acceptable levels, both in terms of sheer volume as well as its general detectability in urban environments.”. Among some of the solutions to noisy flying vehicles is to tinker with the speeds of rotors. Since the faster the rotors move, the more they approach supersonic speeds, the louder they get. Adding blades to the tips of the rotors would achieve the same lift but at a lower speed.
Then there is the issue of manufacturing these flying cars. If technology is set to be achievable, the one concert left in the development of these cars is the manufacturing of them. There needs to be a demand for them to force companies to find ways to manufacture them cheaper and faster. Thousands need to be produced and flown in order to sustain the industry of flying cars. Integrating composite materials, modern manufacturing machinery, and large-scale manufacturing techniques is required for this technology to kick off.
All these technologies, when applied together, can make flying cars easily integrable and, within a couple of years, affordable and ANOTHER WORD FOR PRACTICAL for the public. While this technology may seem like a story of the future, it is, in reality, all within our scope. “There is a degree of inevitability to this whole thing,” German says. “All these technologies are continuing to converge and mature. Even things like public perception can be overcome once people become aware of what the tech can do in their lives. Eventually, it becomes a cultural phenomenon, where people suddenly rewire their lives around it.”
An example of flying cars is the Terrafugia,
These companies all share one thing in common—they are strategically avoiding the conversation of how these flying cars will be implemented and integrated into the airspace. This includes getting approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to integrate these flying cars into the airspace. It will take a lot of time and money for the FAA to approve them. As Terrafugia’s Dietrich said, technology will likely move faster than regulators. Governmental processes can take a long time, and unforeseen problems will most likely appear. John-Paul Clarke, a senior member of the panel on the National Academy of Science and a professor at Georgia Tech, suggested “having private air traffic controllers handle aircraft in crowded urban areas, leaving the FAA to regulate commercial aviation, similar to setups in Canada and the United Kingdom.”
He also articulated his belief that the FAA will eventually be driven to establish standards for the autonomous systems in flying cars, and in turn, each county or state will have its own added standards to ensure that cars will have some sort of “safe mode” if under a dangerous situation. “Once you start thinking about each city, why should Dallas worry about what LA is doing?” he said. “The FAA has to come and say, ‘Here are the basic rules and regulations to enforce,’ so that people can come to Dallas and say, ‘I have a solution.’ Congress will have to establish laws that safeguard passengers. The fear is that this government intervention hinders the development of this industry.
- Terrafugia. Company website. URL: https://www.terrafugia.com/
- Company website. URL: https://www.uber.com/us/en/elevate/
- Karem Aircraft. Company website. URL: http://karemaircraft.com/
- University of Southern California. Research findings. URL: https://www.usc.edu/
- National Academy of Sciences. Panel report. URL: https://www.nationalacademies.org/
- Flight Safety Foundation. Report on regulations and autonomous systems. URL: https://flightsafety.org/