Flying cars: coming to the skies near you ... perhaps soon-ish
June 19, 2017 10:52 AM   Subscribe

The Paris Air Show starts today, and features a list of known names showing off their newest aircraft, but there will also be some serious attempts to present flying cars. UK-based Neva Aerospace is promoting its AirQuadOne concept (PDF, press release), while the better-known Airbus has their Vahana concept, which is being pitched as on-demand aviation, in line with Uber's near-future goal of low-cost air taxis in Dubai and Dallas, TX by 2020. Not to be left out, Larry Page is backing the Kitty Hawk Flyer, less flying car, and more more human-sized drone that can only land on water. Looping back to the Paris Air Show and flying cars, AeroMobil, the sleek car-with-wings from Slovakia is back to the Air Show, after a serious crash in 2015.
posted by filthy light thief (40 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
holy shit folks, just rent a car when you land your private plane at the airport.

or even better, have one of your Bentleys permanently garaged there.
posted by indubitable at 11:03 AM on June 19 [4 favorites]

Human beings are fucking terrible at driving regular cars. Flying cars are a terrible idea.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:06 AM on June 19 [18 favorites]

Well car accidents are about to get a lot more interesting.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 11:07 AM on June 19

That Vahana thing is really cool!
posted by notyou at 11:27 AM on June 19

It seems like these things will be much more suited to automation than cars will be. In fact I predict there will be widespread automated flying craft before automated cars.

I also predict they won't catch on or be very practical for some time.

Also, why do we have to call them "flying cars?" Isn't "car" short for "carriage?" Can't we come up with some new name for them? The Jetsons was a long time ago.
posted by bondcliff at 11:29 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]

I'm with Pope Guilty on this: as godawful as people are at driving in two dimensions, I can only dread how much worse they'd be in THREE dimensions.... I'm throwing all my hopes on self-driving cars instead, and then the idiots can go play on their cellphones or change clothes or whatever with less risk to my life.
posted by easily confused at 11:31 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]

I love these flying cars in the same way that I love Syd Mead illustrations. So gorgeous! So stylish! What a awesome future! And very much like those Syd Mead illustrations, I don't want to see these deployed, because their beautiful designs are just not going to survive contact with reality, not even a little bit.
posted by phooky at 11:37 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]

Where is the link the the Moller SkyCar? Surely they are *THIS* close to having a flying car on the market, right?
posted by Mr. Big Business at 11:41 AM on June 19 [8 favorites]

I gather the point is that, because people are such shit at driving, what makes this an area of interest once more is not so much the ability to make a car that flies as the ability to make an aircraft that pilots itself. Basically, we're talking about drones big enough to carry people.
posted by Naberius at 11:42 AM on June 19 [9 favorites]

UK-based Neva Aerospace...

"Neva" is a delightfully candid name for a company pushing a flying car.
posted by gurple at 11:51 AM on June 19 [9 favorites]

Meanwhile, backyard inventors are building this out of random crap (check out that speed controller, heh) and smashing world records.
posted by loquacious at 11:56 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]

Where is the link the the Moller SkyCar? Surely they are *THIS* close to having a flying car on the market, right?

I haven't thought of that fundraising scam in ages. In hindsight it actually looks more feasible now than ever, if not outright quaint and crude. But just not at the ridiculous speeds and ranges they were advertising.
posted by loquacious at 12:01 PM on June 19

Realistically I think this will be a hobby/luxury thing for rich people at best. The thought of large numbers of flying cars fills me with absolute dread.

Given how much garbage I have to pick up every week from the relatively few cars coming through the rather quiet street I live on I can't wait for the day when cars are constantly flying over my house and people are throwing fast food wrappers etc out of their windows.

But even if flying cars were to be restricted to fly only along the lines of existing streets they will effectively render all noise reduction efforts obsolete. I live two blocks from major traffic arteries but noise levels are tolerable because the 2+ story commercial buildings lining the streets block most of the noise from reaching our block. I can't even imagine what it'll be like for those who live in the big apartment blocks along those streets or those who live behind the sound blocking walls along the freeways. As always it'll be the least fortunate and most poor who'll suffer the most from something like this.

Think of the police helicopter waking you up at night and keeping you up even though it's circling 4 or 5 blocks away. Now imagine this multiplied by many cars and happening all the time 24/7. Yes, electric turbo fans are much quieter than old-school helicopter engines but they still make a ton of noise and there'd be many of them if that technology were to actually take off.

On the plus side trickle down economics could turn into a recreational activity for rich people who want to literally pee on the plebs from on high.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:01 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]

Said it before, I'll say it again: when people say that they want flying cars, they really mean flying car, singular, for themselves. (And usually really during rush hour.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:10 PM on June 19 [9 favorites]

I always look at this stuff and think "well I guess it's interesting and inventive and not just a gold-plated toilet seat" and then think "but wouldn't all these people have more fun solving problems that aren't completely pointless?"

I don't really begrudge anyone messing around with this sort of stuff. I just don't understand the sort of brain that looks around at a world full of fascinating engineering challenges and decides that the really important one is making toys for millionaires. I mean, if you're gonna make surely it would be more fun to make toys for children?
posted by howfar at 12:41 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]

If you thought the carbon cost of automobiles was bad, lets put individual travelers into sky drones! I can't wait for the carbon soaked heat death of the planet. Luckily it'll be here sooner than later.
posted by msbutah at 12:51 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]

This is fascinating to me - I work in the autonomous technology world (currently on some drone type stuff, actually) and I'm loosely connected to a few people working on flying cars and it's really interesting to me to see that the assumption of automation is not as widespread among most people as I think it is.

Yeah, the point is totally that these things are automated to heck and that any actual human involvement in the "driving" of them only involves GPS waypoints or a destination. My concern about the flying cars is far less about people being idiot drivers and much more than technologically speaking, unless they're burning fossil fuels, you can't get anywhere other than the nearest grocery store on them because battery energy density suuuuuucks and will for the next 5-10 years probably. Multicopters are really aerodynamically inefficient ways to move things through space, whether it's your Amazon delivery or you.

Besides, the fossil-fuel-powered more energy-efficient aircraft that takes off and lands vertically to take rich people where they want to be via the sky exists - it's called a helicopter. I'm always surprised that people aren't just focusing on automating those rather than creating an entire new class of vehicle.
posted by olinerd at 12:57 PM on June 19 [9 favorites]

Also - "flying cars" are an awesome headline and attracts $$ from rich people but let's be honest, once you have a drone that can carry hundreds of pounds of payload autonomously, the real money there is in cargo transport.
posted by olinerd at 12:58 PM on June 19 [7 favorites]

Oh man, the good old Moller SkyCar. I remember watching people gush on about that thing on TV technology shows back in the 80's. I even had a nice big toy SkyCar, complete with rotating engines. Probably the closest anyone will ever be to owning one. Just around the corner, for the past 40 years!
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:23 PM on June 19

Yeah, what Olinerd said: we have skycars, they're called helicopters. What people are actually asking for is a perfected helicopter.

Also, when you think about it, these"skycars" aren't going to be flooding the skyway, for reasons of cost and licensing: you have a high-tech, more capable helicopter- at a mininum those things are going to be in the six figure range at a minimum. As for licensing, no I don't care how automated it is-the FAA is going to rewrote a helicopter pilot's certification for the operator. Which is going to add another 7000-10,000 to the cost.

So bottom line is, even if one of the designs works out, these things are never going to replace automobiles. They wouldn't even become that common
posted by happyroach at 2:13 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]

This reminds me that we don't have a Fanfare thread on Too Like the Lightning yet.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:13 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]

As much as I think Uber is a hive of scum and villany, if you think flying cars are interesting you should really read their 98 page whitepaper (2.7MB PDF). They directly address the comparisons to helicopters and light aircraft and have at least greenfield ideas on many other immediate problems with the idea.

Roughly, they only make 1,000 helicopters a year (compared to ~72 million cars). That's not enough volume to justify investing the kind of money you'd need to make them cheap. The paper even break down the economics for three different levels of maturity from basically cheaper-helicopters with paid pilots all the way to the fully automated luxury gay space communism "long-term" projection. The numbers might all be wrong, I don't know, but it's a lot more concrete than you might expect from the phrase "uber flying car".
posted by Skorgu at 2:37 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]

I'm always surprised that people aren't just focusing on automating those rather than creating an entire new class of vehicle.

I think it's a couple of things. First, traditional helicopters are kind of a pain in the ass from a dynamics perspective and I don't think modern autopilots can do a lot of what you'd want a helicopter to do - hover, hit a mark on the ground with extreme accuracy, that kind of thing. Second, multirotors and other distributed propulsion systems are arguably safer since you're removing the single point of failure (main rotor) than can cause a really bad day. This means your automation has the luxury to place the vehicle in a much more optimal position than a normal emergency landing.

Quadcopter drones became a thing because they were easier for novices to develop control schemes for, and now people are just taking the existing concept and upscaling it.

I agree, though, that there's a lot more automation than people realize. The first airliner to get certified for autolanding capabilities was the Lockheed 1011 in the 1970s. We recently bought a car with adaptive cruise control and lane keeping functions and I almost don't have to touch it once it's going on the highway, it's really remarkable how good the technology is.
posted by backseatpilot at 2:45 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]

Oh, I meant to point out also - the problem right now isn't the automation, as in "fly this path and land here." The hard part is integrating these vehicle in the NAS so they play nice with everyone else already out there flying. The ADS-B mandate has helped to a point, but there's still a ton of "non-cooperative traffic" that you need the Mark 1 Eyeball to detect and avoid. Training vehicles, autonomous or remotely piloted, to handle other traffic is a huge challenge and a big part of why there are currently so many restrictions about flying drones.
posted by backseatpilot at 2:48 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]

I'm always surprised that people aren't just focusing on automating those rather than creating an entire new class of vehicle.

It's because helicopters are basically engineering unicorns. The Sikorsky model of a single rotor with stabilizing tail boom that most helicopters use today is a very delicate compromise between weight, power and mechanical engineering that - in my frank opinion - mainly stays in the air on a rich mixture of over-engineering and unicorn farts. Not to mention the "Jesus bolt" that keeps the rotor attached to everything else, as in "Oh, Jesus, where'd that bolt go!?"

For a long time most helicopter experiments were dealing with multiple rotors because it generally makes sense as far as more available lift, stability and torque control but the materials engineering and power density just wasn't there at all, not to mention computer controlled flight schemes.

And all rotating wing aircraft are aerodynamically inefficient, especially at high forward speeds with regard to the whole trailing rotor blade problem.

For human flight, a multirotor with, say six or eight (or even many more) rotors and individual power plants has a lot more redundancy than a single rotor. You can beef this up with multiple, isolated battery networks, speed controllers and flight controllers, so if battery bank A goes out, it fails in a way that doesn't leave one side of the craft unpowered, IE each battery array powers and controls rotors on opposite sides of the craft and splits the difference.

As it is a helicopter can only autorotate to a landing so gently and safely, and if that single rotor fails you're going down in a hurry no matter what.

And, sure, if you lose all power in an electric multirotor, autorotation isn't even a thing. You fall out of the sky like a rock. But they make ballistic aircraft parachute safety systems for this kind of thing for small/light aircraft, and they're proven to work and save lives.
posted by loquacious at 3:03 PM on June 19 [7 favorites]

Yippeee! The Future is finally here.
posted by mermayd at 3:13 PM on June 19

But they make ballistic aircraft parachute safety systems for this kind of thing for small/light aircraft, and they're proven to work and save lives.

...and, in fact, just such a system saved the pilot of AeroMobil's (plane-like, not copter-like) vehicle in the crash linked at the end of the post.
posted by The Tensor at 3:23 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]

It seems like quite a lot of people are cobbling together massively-multi-rotor flying machines in their sheds.

Which is a lot of fun. However, even if they sort out duration and the not-killing-people thing, I suspect that, like Concorde, that damn noise will rather limit applicability.
posted by Devonian at 4:10 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]

You guys, they had the Moller Skycar at the state fair this year and I overheard someone asking the staff how much the cars would cost. They said nobody could afford them and they were hoping to do some kind of Uber-thing with them.
Seriously?! You're going to Uber a flying car? What kind of business model is this?
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:59 PM on June 19

It seems like quite a lot of people are cobbling together massively-multi-rotor flying machines in their sheds.

i dub thee "The Cuisinart"
posted by indubitable at 5:36 PM on June 19

They said nobody could afford them and they were hoping to do some kind of Uber-thing with them.

I think what they mean is they want a model that lets them keep going back to investors to pay for the $750M they give away to pilots and riders every quarter.
posted by notyou at 5:45 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]

File 'flying cars' beside 'driverless cars' in the 'never going to happen' drawer.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:08 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]

Driverless cars are happening, though. Why would they not?
posted by Devonian at 5:07 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: mainly stays in the air on a rich mixture of over-engineering and unicorn farts.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:59 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]

Yeah, driverless cars are not even remotely in the same category.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:45 AM on June 20

Seriously?! You're going to Uber a flying car? What kind of business model is this?

Uber offers helicopters to escape Sao Paulo gridlock
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:53 AM on June 20

Flying cars are so, so, so obviously Never Gonna Happen, but scamming money from gullible investors will never go out of style.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:55 PM on June 20 [1 favorite]

Autonomous only, please.
posted by filtergik at 3:50 PM on June 20

zero-visibility derail: the L-1011 was the first widebody with autoland; the first airliner with autoland was the Hawker Siddeley Trident 2E of 1968.
posted by tss at 4:58 PM on June 20 [1 favorite]

AP: Dubai hopes to have a passenger-carrying drone regularly buzzing through the skyline of this futuristic city-state in July.

“This is not only a model,” al-Tayer said. “We have actually experimented with this vehicle flying in Dubai’s skies.”

The craft can carry a passenger weighing up to 100 kilograms (220 pounds) and a small suitcase. After buckling into its race-car-style seat, the craft’s sole passenger selects a destination on a touch-screen pad in front of the seat and the drone flies there automatically.

The drone, which has a battery allowing for a half-hour flight time and a range of up to 50 kilometers (31 miles), will be monitored remotely by a control room on the ground. It has a top speed of 160 kph (100 mph), but authorities say it will be operated typically at 100 kph (62 mph).

posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:11 PM on June 20 [1 favorite]

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