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Flying Cars Ready To Take Off 819

Posted by timothy
from the they're-already-late dept.
Ant writes "CBS News has an article, images, and a free streaming video clip of Elwood (Woody) Norris' invention of a working flying machine, AirScooter. He asked one of his test pilots to demonstrate it for 60 Minutes on a hilltop outside San Diego, California. It can fly for 2 hours at 55 mph, and go up to 10,000 feet above sea level. This week, he will receive America's top prize for invention. It's called the Lemelson-MIT award -- a half-million dollar cash prize to honor his life's work, which includes a brand new personal flying machine. Woody Norris' and others' inventions are for NASA's 'The Highway in the Sky.' It is a computer system designed to let millions of people fly whenever they please, and take off and land from wherever they please, in their very own vehicles."
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Flying Cars Ready To Take Off

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  • Skycar (Score:5, Informative)

    by dsginter (104154) on Monday April 18, 2005 @07:52AM (#12268209)
    Moller Skycar Info [moller.com].
  • Needle hits E (Score:3, Informative)

    by justforaday (560408) on Monday April 18, 2005 @08:00AM (#12268276)
    I can't wait for the first accident report to come in because someone forget to fill it up...
  • by xtal (49134) on Monday April 18, 2005 @08:01AM (#12268286)
    Check out this as a good starting point;

    http://www.amazing1.com/grav.htm

    There's some good stuff out there, and some people have gotten decent lift results with ion containment approaches.
  • by RichMeatyTaste (519596) on Monday April 18, 2005 @08:01AM (#12268287)
    Did you read the article? Stay under 400 feet in non-restricted airspace = no pilots license
  • Re:Skycar (Score:3, Informative)

    by Gr8Apes (679165) on Monday April 18, 2005 @08:07AM (#12268334)
    My problem with this one is that it was listed as a prototype, and the only one they had.

    I recall reading about the Moller sky car in Popular Science years ago (5? 10? 15? it was a long time ago;) except then it was a 7 engine beast able to fly 400mph, get 20 mpg with 4 passenagers, along with VTOL. I guess that was merely a paper proposal, although it wasn't presented as such.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 18, 2005 @08:10AM (#12268374)
    Thank you Lewis Black...
  • Re:Skycar (Score:2, Informative)

    by thisisauniqueid (825395) on Monday April 18, 2005 @08:12AM (#12268390)
    I remember seeing an episode on "That's Incredible" in the 80s in which Moller was about to release this to the public, as the most earth-changing invention ever...
  • Re:Skycar (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 18, 2005 @08:16AM (#12268421)
    Actually, the article is more about the AirScooter than the Moller Skycar. Here's some pics of the AirScooter...

    http://news.com.com/Get+ready+for+the+AirScooter/2 100-1041_3-5672783.html [com.com]
  • Re:Skycar (Score:5, Informative)

    by Issue9mm (97360) on Monday April 18, 2005 @08:17AM (#12268432)
    Mr. Moller's been building flying cars since forever ago. I saw his cameo on "Invent This!", and he had relatively working prototypes of various models of flying cars in the 60s and 70s.

    Really, it's quite amazing what he's accomplished, and has to be the first to market on these things. I can only wonder why it's never "taken off" (pun only slightly intended.)

    I want to say I've heard him mention that being the first to market on something so "seemingly" dangerous was his downfall, but I could be misquoting.

    Interesting aside: Moller has acres and acres of pecan trees, which he eats as a staple of his diet, because he believes they slow the aging process (and he's quite old now indeed.)

    -9mm-
  • by ray-auch (454705) on Monday April 18, 2005 @08:28AM (#12268511)
    From the article, the engine is only 65hp, so fuel consumption may be better than some cars.

    It also says 2hrs flight time, 55knots (approx 60mph), on 5 gallons. That is >20mpg, which would definitely be better than the worst SUVs.
  • by merlyn (9918) on Monday April 18, 2005 @08:29AM (#12268514) Homepage Journal
    Hmm. You call it a "Private Pilot's License", but all real pilots know they have a "certificate". The only "license" is for the radio in the airplane.

    And then you say "let it lapse". Your certificate is good for a lifetime, unless they take it away from you. No expiration date.

    Maybe what you meant is "let your currency lapse", by not taking the required AFR/BFR, and/or not getting a new medical certificate.

    Yeah, you probably meant all this, but as a PP-ASEL-IA with 270 hours, I can't let the terminology be that sloppy. {grin}

  • by D3 (31029) <daviddhenning@nosPAm.gmail.com> on Monday April 18, 2005 @08:41AM (#12268606) Journal

    First, it doesn't say anything about using rotary engines, their website shows a 2 piston 4-stroke engine.

    Second, the reliability of many rotary engines was shortened by idiot owners who didn't know how to treat them. This was really only an issue with the 3rd generation RX-7. Heat generated by twin-turbo charging caused a lot of the 1993-1995 cars to have premature engine failure. However this is not the case for other rotary cars which without the turbos last hundreds of thousands of miles. Even many 3rd gen cars have gone well over 100,000 miles without rebuild which is roughly equal to running 1700 hours on an airplane. Check out the recommended rebuild schedules for airplane motors and many range from 1200-2000 hours. Really sounds like reliability is an issue doesn't it?

    Third, check out http://www.rotaryaviation.com/ and http://www.atkinsrotary.com to see why you are so wrong to judge what happened in your brother's car and jump to the conclusion they are not good for airplane use. The mazda rotary is probably the most used auto engine in aviation BECAUSE IT IS RELIABLE.

  • by ray-auch (454705) on Monday April 18, 2005 @08:44AM (#12268622)
    The airscooter (which is what the article is about) is an ultralight helicopter with co-axial rotors.

    See eg.

    image link [airscooter.com]

  • Doing the Math (Score:4, Informative)

    by goombah99 (560566) on Monday April 18, 2005 @08:45AM (#12268634)
    I'd douby his math. From the article:

    ""Well, I've done the math. I think it's a modest number if you could sell a couple thousand, when you look at snowmobiles and quads and those things -- not cars," says Norris. "That's a big market. But if we sold say a couple thousand, $50,000 a piece, that's a billion dollars." "

    Uh no that would be 100 million dollars.

  • Re:Skycar (Score:4, Informative)

    by andrew_0812 (592089) on Monday April 18, 2005 @08:49AM (#12268664)
    Here is another company working on a flying car called SkyRider [macroindustries.com].
  • by Smidge204 (605297) on Monday April 18, 2005 @08:55AM (#12268709) Journal
    IIRC, the boards were actually suspended by metal arms from underneath which were removed in postprocessing. For the action shots the arm was mounted to a moving vehicle. Wires would not be stable enough to stand on... it would be like standing on a swing seat.
    =Smidge=
  • Track record (Score:3, Informative)

    by Jott42 (702470) on Monday April 18, 2005 @09:05AM (#12268830)
    The Lemelson-MIT award does not have a very good track record, at least not from my POW. One example is the text on their web-page about Wilson Greatbatch, another lifetime award winner, which is seriously lacking in accuracy.
    (It talks about designing the first sucessful pacemaker implant, which is true only if "sucessful" is taken as "working for more than 9 months." If the time limit is set to anything less, the inventor is suddenly swedish...)
  • by Geoff-with-a-G (762688) on Monday April 18, 2005 @09:08AM (#12268868)
    If you can't be troubled to RTFA, at least read the summary.

    It's mostly about Norris' "AirScooter", NOT Moller's Skycar, and Norris DID demo the AirScooter, with a 60 minute flight in front of press.

    It may not be in a dealership near you yet, but it really does fly, it's not vapor.
  • *Sure* they are... (Score:4, Informative)

    by supabeast! (84658) on Monday April 18, 2005 @09:11AM (#12268906)
    When I was a little kid I used to read all the time about these neat flying cars that were only a few years away, once the designers worked out a few kinks and the government figured out the regulatory side. As I've grown up I've continued to see these stories coming along, always promising that these guys have a new flying car that will be ready for consumers at some time right around the bend...

    It ain't happening, folks. Now and then these guys might pick up an award or snowball another big team of journalists into reporting on their work, but safe, reliable, affordable flying cars that get reasonable fuel economy aren't going to happen any time soon. And when they do, they'll be tied up in regulatory and insurance messes for years, continuing to prevent wide adoption. At the rate this stuff is moving, by the these designs are ready for the market and the market is ready, the fossil fuels needed to run them will cost so much that people won't want them, and we'll get to wait another twenty years for hydrogen-powered models to arrive.
  • by anthony_dipierro (543308) on Monday April 18, 2005 @09:34AM (#12269170) Journal

    What about the people whose houses these things are going to fall on when people without the skills required for a current private pilots license decide that "whenever they please" means during thunderstorms or when the clouds are generating ice or when the wind is gusting to 90 knots?

    Most likely you'll need a license and insurance in order to operate these things. In fact, mandatory insurance makes even more sense for these things then it does for cars. It's pretty easy to keep a car on the road. Keeping a plane in the sky is impossible to do with 100% certainty, no matter how skilled you are.

  • by thrasymachus (232855) on Monday April 18, 2005 @09:40AM (#12269246)
    I think this is a pretty astute observation.

    Every time a new transportation technology gains widespread adoption the legal regime has to incorporate the fact that people are injuring one another in novel, previously unforeseen ways.

    Much of US tort law http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tort_law [wikipedia.org] was developed from litigation regarding railroads. Early railroads were always either injuring people directly, or sparking off and causing fires here and there.

    We've got a massive compulsory insurance scheme for cars but that doesn't prevent all the litigation as anyone who's seen a lawyer commercial can attest.

    I'd bet that there'll initially be some higher legal standard of care one would need to exercise since flying is inherently more dangerous than driving. If the tech improves so that it's mostly autopilot, then that might not be the case.
  • by Steffan (126616) on Monday April 18, 2005 @09:47AM (#12269324)
    "It's a physics based fact that keeping a mass, such as an air car, airborne consumes more energy than a ground based rolling car"

    That would only be true for a given mass. There are diesel powered airplanes in production [diamond-air.at] that get the equivalent of 20-30 mpg (US). Compare this to a Ford Excursion or Chevy Suburban and you will see that the airplane is actually more economical in fuel usage. It may well be more economical in total energy picture, factoring in manufacturing as well.
    In addition, the DA40TDI runs on diesel. It is not currently certified to operate on biodiesel, but there is probably no technical reason it could not do so. (Yeah, yeah, the standard arguments against biodiesel like supposedly taking up all of our farmland to grow fuel, blah blah blah)
    So your blanket statement does not hold up even with present technology.
  • by fr2asbury (462941) on Monday April 18, 2005 @09:59AM (#12269467)
    I think you're a little off. The British use 'billions' where an American would use 'trillion.' The British use things like 'thousand-million.'
    For both British and American counters a 'couple' thousand multiplied by $50,000 would be roughly one-hundred-million dollars depending on how strict or loose the person was being with a 'couple.'
  • by D_Lehman(at)ISPAN.or (799775) on Monday April 18, 2005 @10:06AM (#12269549) Homepage Journal
    About the use of fuel, from http://www.moller.com/skycar/

    The Rotapower engine produces little NOx, the most difficult pollutant to eliminate. In addition, using a stratified charge combustion process greatly reduces the unburned hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide emitted....The Skycar's fuel-efficient engines and ability to run on regular automotive gasoline result in low fuel costs. The Skycar is significantly more fuel efficient in passenger miles per gallon than the tilt-rotor V22 Osprey, helicopters or many commercial jet airplanes.

    I remember when this first came out, and the inventor claimed on a TV program also that these engines (unmanned versions already in use by municipalities working on bridges and such) can also run on extremely alternative fuels. I remember he specifically said that it could even run on "used McDonald's fry vat grease". In my opinion, this kind of rubust and effecient engine (in terms of flying engine effeciency) is exactly what the world needs. If someone can link to the alternative fuel use information from long ago, I would enjoy reading it again.
  • by KillerDeathRobot (818062) on Monday April 18, 2005 @10:10AM (#12269602) Homepage
    I know of a place where you can sit in one Starbucks and look out the window across the street at guess what... Another Starbucks!

    You know of ONE place like that? If you've ever been to downtown Seattle, pretty much every place is like that. In some places you can see two or three from one.
  • by MikeBabcock (65886) <mtb-slashdot@mikebabcock.ca> on Monday April 18, 2005 @10:12AM (#12269634) Homepage Journal
    Last year the story ran [slashdot.org] about a $30k personal helicopter.
  • Re:Headline is wrong (Score:5, Informative)

    by AJWM (19027) on Monday April 18, 2005 @10:24AM (#12269744) Homepage
    How are they going to prevent people from flying over private property?

    They're not. At 500 feet above the highest obstacle, (1000 feet over a built up area), the skies are open (subject to air traffic regs). If you don't want people flying over your property, you'll have to apply to the FAA to declare your property restricted airspace. Good luck.

    (Below the above altitudes, you can report such aircraft to the FAA, unless they're on approach to or departure from an airport.)

    (Oh, and if you feel like just putting up a 500 foot tower to raise the "floor", better make sure you've got approval, lest the FAA declare it a hazard to navigation and make you take it down.)
  • by AJWM (19027) on Monday April 18, 2005 @10:38AM (#12269894) Homepage
    It's a physics based fact that keeping a mass, such as an air car, airborne consumes more energy than a ground based rolling car.

    No, it isn't.

    There are far too many variables involved to make such a blanket statement: L/D ratio of the aircraft, mass, rolling resistance and air drag of the ground vehicle, terrain, speeds, stopping and starting, etc, etc.

    As an extreme example, consider what kind of gas mileage a glider gets, even counting whatever gas is used to tow (or propel, for a motor-glider) it to altitude. Compare that to an SUV with under-inflated tires. Even a (non-gliding) Cessna gets better gas mileage than an SUV (I don't recall the exact numbers of the top of my head, aircraft fuel consumption is listed in gallons (or sometimes pounds) per hour.)

    Now, something that relies on a fan instead of a wing for lift probably will have higher consumption, but you're blanket statement is simply false.
  • Re:Skycar (Score:4, Informative)

    by AK Marc (707885) on Monday April 18, 2005 @10:39AM (#12269913)
    I like how the car in the video at 60 Minutes is "tethered" by a crane.

    I've seen similar demonstrations before. The tether is necessary for liability insurance. If the prototype were to malfunction, the tether is necessary to contain any possible damage. Whether it would be possible to rig a demonstration with the tether I will leave for an exercise for the tin-foil-hat crowd.
  • by Torontoman (829262) on Monday April 18, 2005 @10:41AM (#12269940)
    People have been predicting the end of oil for as long as we've known about oil... At some point it might happen but you're not the first to claim it'll 'run out in 20 yrs'. In reality, we continue to improve efficiencies in extracting oil and even ways of making oil that fundamentally challenge the historical thought that oil takes millions of years at extreme temp and pressure to produce. And, we continue to find new sources of oil. My point is, if the new sources dry up (Canada Oil Sand are a 'new' source that alone can keep the entire world supplied for decades)- If/When the 'new sources' don't materialize, we'll be working on improving extraction through efficiencis and conservation - more drastically than we are now (which isn't too drastic at all). So, Oil running out - not likely in 20 yrs even at current levels of use and extraction.
  • by Greyfox (87712) on Monday April 18, 2005 @12:01PM (#12270929) Homepage Journal
    Not to mention that you kind of need a pilot's license to know where the non-restricted airspace is. From what I recall (It's been a while since I dabbled) 1 mile from municipal airports and up to 25 or 30 from an international airports require you to follow direction from air traffic control. That means that among other things you have to ask permission to enter the airspace and turn if you don't get it before you cross over or are denied. Certain classes of aircraft are simply not allowed in certain classes of airspace. I know this because my hang glider instructor misunderstood the regulations and landed at the Wilmington International Airport once and had to file some "Mea Culpa it Won't Happen Again" paperwork with the FAA over it. If that'd happened AFTER 9/11 he probably would have been arrested.

    It's even worse when you're flying a powered aircraft, especially in crowded airspace. Not only are you navigating in 3 dimensions (Which actually is pretty easy to get used to) but you have to keep an eye out for other vehicles up to two or three MILES off and above or below you and follow air traffic control's instructions when they tell you to do something. Overall the amount of bullshit you have to put up with makes the occasional speed trap on the ground look pretty inviting.

    In the end, the flying car experience will be a lot different from what most people imagine. I wouldn't be surprised if the only way it would be allowed would be with a computer controlled navigation system that had no allowance for manual override. Some people might opt to move up to pilots licenses for a craft they could manually control, but that would be about the equivalent of a CB radio enthusiast moving up to a ham license -- most people won't want to and it will bring as many new restrictions as it does newfound freedom.

  • by Anonym1ty (534715) on Monday April 18, 2005 @12:01PM (#12270933) Homepage Journal
    A few people are sloppy and let couple refer to the "few", meaning, but most people prefer the definition referring to a pair.

    Some are sloppier than others - depends on which one. No one will argue what a dozen means, most people ar clueless about a peck... couple, & few depend on who you are talking to. Not to mention some words have always had two meanings... one being ambiguous

    1/10 = gry
    1 = single
    2 = couple
    3 = few
    4 = gang
    5 = punch
    6 = half dozen
    7 = several
    8 = peck / basket
    9 = bunch
    10 = carton / minyan
    11 = short dozen
    12 = dozen
    13 = long dozen / baker's dozen
    14 = fort
    16 = kenning / half bushel
    20 = score
    24 = case
    32 = bushel
    144 = gross
    1728 = great gross
  • Re:Skycar (Score:3, Informative)

    by speleo (61031) * on Monday April 18, 2005 @12:48PM (#12271462) Homepage
    Actually, the Harrier can't do a VTOL at full load. The max load for VTOL is only 3,062 kg. For a short take off (STO) the max permissable load is over 7,000 kg.

    More details here: http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/av-8.htm
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 18, 2005 @12:53PM (#12271521)
    I think the significance is less the actual vehicle, and more the control system it uses.

    In form it's really just an ultra-lite chopper which has been available in different forms for a while.

    In functon, No cyclic no foot pedals. That's pretty significant and makes it much easier to fly than a traditional chopper.

    The vehicle itself will no more revolutionize personal travel (ie flying car) than the Segway scooter did.
  • by ShinmaWa (449201) on Monday April 18, 2005 @01:44PM (#12272192)
    I know of a place where you can sit in one Starbucks and look out the window across the street at guess what... Another Starbucks!

    Yes. This place is called the End of the Universe.
  • by travler (88311) on Monday April 18, 2005 @03:34PM (#12273739)
    Nuclear fission is not an unlimited resource.

    Wrong.

    For all practical purposes it is an unlimited resource.

    With breeder reactors and the ability to extract uranium from the sea we are looking at billions of years before we run out.

    http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/cohen. html [stanford.edu]

    http://www.nuclearfaq.ca/cnf_sectionG.htm#uranium_ supply [nuclearfaq.ca]

  • by travler (88311) on Monday April 18, 2005 @03:56PM (#12274075)
    But it does have a scalability and longevity issue that's human-scale, and so it shouldn't be a final design.

    I don't understand your 'scalability and longevity issue'. There is enough uranium in sea water with the use of breeder reactors to potentially last us billions of years.

    http://www.nuclearfaq.ca/cnf_sectionG.htm#uranium_ supply [nuclearfaq.ca]

    We've proven over the decades from the hundreds of nuclear reactors have been providing power all over the world that we can handle the process safely (more people die in coal-mining cave-ins than ever died from nuclear power plants. There is no such thing as a 100% safe energy system, or car, or soft-cushy-pillow for that matter. However compared to _any_ other energy source currently available nuclear seems very clearly to be the safest.)
  • by cstacy (534252) on Monday April 18, 2005 @05:06PM (#12274939)
    If you look at the photos, you can see that this is in fact nothing more than a (very cool) personal helicopter. It's not a "car" -- it's an open cockpit, like a motorcycle -- and you can't drive on the road or anything; it does not operate on the ground at all.

    It is different from a traditional tiny helicopter in its much simplified controls (and in the way the flight surfaces are actuated). And since it can legally only hold a maximum of 5 gallons of fuel, they have squeezed some good performance out of it.

    I don't know what the vehicle's failure modes and safety features are. If you lose the engine, I am not sure if you can autorotate (or whether you just plummet to your death and have rotor blades flying apart and mincing nearby people and cows).

    The sales hype is that since it's an Ultralight aircraft, you can fly it in unrestricted airspace without a pilot's license.

    You can't commute in the AirScooter. Ultralight aircraft can only be operated in the daylight (between official sunrise/sunset), by VFR, and in decent weather (no clouds, one mile visibility minimum) -- and only for limited purposes. The regulations say "recreation or sport purposes only". I don't know if, for example, commuting to work would be considered "sport" by the FAA, but I suppose that would depend on how many other AirScooters you were competing with for the airspace. Not what they had in mind, though.

    It's worth noting that there is not actually much uncontrolled airspace, unless you live in pretty rural locations. (Never mind class G airspace: you can't operate Ultralights within even the lateral boundaries of class E, which most pilots don't even notice is all over the place.) And in no case can you fly (at any altitude) over towns where people live ("congested area") or over any open-air assembly of people. So unless you have a really huge back yard, you'll have to go out in the country a little bit.

    It has floats and apparently you can land it on the water. Maybe we can get the AirScooter pilots together with the WaveRunner pilots for some real action. (I expect to see this on some Amazingly Stupid Stunts video.)

    Despite all the limitations, it looks like a pretty darn fun toy. I want one!

  • Re:Headline is wrong (Score:2, Informative)

    by cstacy (534252) on Monday April 18, 2005 @05:22PM (#12275113)
    AJWM:

    At 500 feet above the highest obstacle, (1000 feet over a built up area), the skies are open
    That's not quite how it works for ultralight aircraft. The rule you are citing pertains to "congested" areas (most people live in such an area). But that rule is for certified aircraft; ultralight aircraft such as the AirScooter are covered under a different set of regulations. Ultralights can't fly over a congested area (or over any open assembly of people) at any altitude.

    Most people don't have to worry about any AirScooters flying over them.
    Someday when we actually get flying cars, the rules will necessarily be all different.

    __________
    Where are the flying cars? We were promised flying cars!

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