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Could Flying Cars Actually Be On Their Way? 381

Posted by Soulskill
from the why-is-the-future-so-slow-to-arrive dept.
another random user writes "With ideas like the Taylor Aerocar, Terrafugia Transition, Terrafugia Transformer, the PAL-V, and myCopter, are we getting close to a point where flying cars could actually become practical? An article at the BBC discusses how adding automation to these craft is an important goal for the people currently working on them, something we see paralleled in the many projects to develop autonomous non-flying cars. 'The team intends to draw on drone technology to automate as much of the flying as possible. Current fly-by-wire technology, as well as some of the features being used in the development of autonomous or robotic vehicles could all help fleets of these vehicles fly along predefined highways – and crucially avoid each other. But perhaps the biggest problem the team aim to tackle are the regulatory and safety issues, as well as those of public opinion.' If that does happen, given a lot of drivers' inability to pay attention to what's going on around them on the roads as it is now, how safe would you feel in the air?"
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Could Flying Cars Actually Be On Their Way?

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  • In the air? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Vekseid (1528215) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @07:17PM (#40991667) Homepage

    I'd like to continue feeling safe on the ground, thankyouverymuch.

    • I'd like to continue feeling safe on the ground, thankyouverymuch.

      You feel safe on the ground??! Huh....

      • Re:In the air? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @08:25PM (#40992267)

        Flying -- with the notable exception of lighter-than-air such as gasbags -- is too energy intensive to be consumer-level practical at this point in time. Leaving out the technological, mass production, and licensing hurdles.

        Until or unless we can come up with inexpensive energy, it's not going to happen other than as a rich person's option.

        Most people are intimidated by the amount it costs to *drive* somewhere. The cost of flying is like the cost of boating... much, much higher than driving.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Yet there are several 4 place aircraft which get better milage than an SUV at 4 times the speed, and the 2 place aircraft are better. When you start counting seat-miles, airplanes beat everything except train.

          However, the FAA will kill this through regulation. Nothing in their charter requires them to allow aviation.

          • by ceoyoyo (59147)

            I suppose if you postulate one person in an SUV then you've got something. Most of the world doesn't drive things the size of SUVs with only one person in them.

            It is possible we could make an efficient aircraft, given incentive though.

            • >I suppose if you postulate one person in an SUV then you've got something. Most of the world doesn't drive things the size of SUVs with only one person in them.

              In what world do you live ? Take a look into some SUV's on a morning commute sometime, the VAST majority of all cars on the road have only one person in them, a tiny minority have two, the few SUV's that have more than one is a parent taking kids to school.
              Since those parents usually go to work after and work is on average further from homes than

        • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @09:19PM (#40992669) Journal

          Not only flying is too energy intensive, the concept of flying cars poses a HUGE RISK in this world we live in today, where there are people who are crazy enough to blow themselves up just so that people around them die with them

          Imagine you have flying cars zipping around buildings - how are you to ensure that no one load up one (or more) flying car(s) with strong explosives and then slam it/them into an office building?
           

          • by BKX (5066) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @09:51PM (#40992917) Journal

            That's a bullshit argument. Substitute the words car and drive for flying car and fly and you'll see why. A terrorist could just as easily and with as much success load up a pedophile van with explosives and drive at 90mph into a building tomorrow. What difference does flying make?

            • by Jawnn (445279) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @10:41PM (#40993233)
              It may be bullshit, but it's damned effective. We've allowed various versions of the "...then the terrorists win" argument to be used as reasons to repeatedly deprive us of our rights and liberties. You're quite right, of course. Timothy McVeigh showed us that any dim-witted sociopath can put together a car-bomb that will destroy an entire building, and you don't even have to "martyr" yourself in the process. That 24' Ryder truck holds a LOT more ANFO than your average flying car. Alas, GP has swallowed the bullshit whole and now lives in fear of airplanes.
            • by perpenso (1613749) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @11:09PM (#40993391)

              That's a bullshit argument. Substitute the words car and drive for flying car and fly and you'll see why. A terrorist could just as easily and with as much success load up a pedophile van with explosives and drive at 90mph into a building tomorrow. What difference does flying make?

              If its an "important" building the van may crash into a barrier and not get "close enough" to the building to do significant damage. There are no barriers to keep aircraft away.

          • by BeanThere (28381) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @04:00AM (#40994601)

            Imagine you have flying cars zipping around buildings - how are you to ensure that no one load up one (or more) flying car(s) with strong explosives and then slam it/them into an office building?

            Not to try inject "reason" between your shrieks of hysteria, but the risks are exactly the same as the current, existing ability of a terrorist to just drive right up to an office building with the same fucking explosives loaded in a damn ground vehicle. (How the hell did you get +4 insightful for that utter inanity?)

            The reason it isn't common is because there just aren't that many people trying to blow you up, not because it's somehow currently just too difficult to blow people up.

        • by khallow (566160)

          Most people are intimidated by the amount it costs to *drive* somewhere.

          I doubt it. They're probably more intimidated by the time it takes to drive somewhere.

        • Flying -- with the notable exception of lighter-than-air such as gasbags -- is too energy intensive to be consumer-level practical at this point in time. Leaving out the technological, mass production, and licensing hurdles.

          You forgot the most important issue - we are currently doing a good job of causing climate change with a few billion of us using motorised land vehicles. There is no way known that the environment can sustain any significant fraction of the population moving to air travel as a commuting method.

          We should be focusing on getting rid of the idea that individuals need 1+ tonne lumps of metal to get around, not finding new ways to pump out greenhouse gases.

        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          I both fly and boat for free (after the cost of the vehicle). Hang gliding and sailing.

          But yes, the "flying cars" people are always dreaming of (literal flying cars, not Cessnas) are going to be so horribly inefficient we'd be far better off without them.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by sortius_nod (1080919)

        I don't think I ever "feel safe" on the ground with the nutbag drivers on the roads. So many people do so many dangerous things in cars. You may think it's safe, but it really isn't.

        The only way to feel safer is to remove humans from the equation. Google's unmanned car: 300 000 miles, 0 crashes [extremetech.com]. There's not many cars that can claim those kind of statistics

    • Exactly. The real question is "how safe would you feel with bad drivers in the air?". Or even better, high speed chases in the air. Ouch.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @07:51PM (#40991983)

        Or even better, high speed chases in the air.

        That is at least 170% too awesome to ever become real.

        • by perpenso (1613749)

          Or even better, high speed chases in the air.

          That is at least 170% too awesome to ever become real.

          Actually its been happening for nearly a century, its called a dog fight. :-)

    • I'd like to continue feeling safe on the ground, thankyouverymuch.

      Every single broken down car I see on the highway on my way to work would be a dead person if it would have been flying, so yeah lol. Also, it takes MUCH more fuel to travel above the ground than on the ground so that's an absolute no, no, no, no, NO under any circumstances this decade! It's just not going to happen! It's like Prius vs Hummer x 100.

      • by riverat1 (1048260)

        Instances of engine failure during flight are not necessarily automatically fatal to the occupants even in single engine airplanes. It depends mostly on the skill of the pilot and the availability of a suitable place to set down. For example US Airways Flight 1549. [wikipedia.org]

        • Also, a car-sized aircraft with one or two passengers would be light enough to deploy one of these [youtube.com], significantly increasing the suitability of the available terrain.

      • by Rei (128717)

        The energy consumption between cars and private planes isn't that distorted. I think a typical cessna gets something like 9,5l/100km (25mpg) when cruising at 200kph (~120mph). Obviously short hops will hurt your efficiency a good bit, of course. On the other hand, the ability to reduce the number of "miles" traveled by taking a more direct route could be a big benefit (with caveats, see below).

        Yes, you're wasting energy keeping a plane aloft. Also since aero drag is proportional to velocity squared, the

    • Re:In the air? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PopeRatzo (965947) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @08:17PM (#40992205) Homepage Journal

      I'd like to continue feeling safe on the ground, thankyouverymuch.

      I feel plenty safe, air or ground, but I definitely wouldn't feel safe in the air surrounded by the people that are now filling the Dan Ryan Expressway every morning.

      Me, I've got no problem with a flying car. It's having other people with flying cars that's the problem.

  • i hope never (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dmitrygr (736758) <dmitrygr@gmail.com> on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @07:20PM (#40991687) Homepage
    As a pilot, I really really really hope this never happens! Most people are BARELY able to keep in control of their vehicles in 2D, and are entirely unsuited for 3D. Keep them away from the skies, so that those of us who passed the difficult tests and demonstrated our ability to handle an aircraft safely can continue to be safe and remain not in danger of idiots cutting us off, not following rules, etc...
    • Roger that. Most people don't realize the challenges of operating in a 3D enviroment where your senses may be fooling you. Couple that with some of the junkers that haven't seen maintenance since the Nixon era and you have. Are wipe for disaster.
      • by dgatwood (11270)

        Roger that. Most people don't realize the challenges of operating in a 3D enviroment where your senses may be fooling you. Couple that with some of the junkers that haven't seen maintenance since the Nixon era and you have. Are wipe for disaster.

        I think you're misunderstanding what most of us mean when we talk about flying cars. I'm envisioning vehicles whose Z axis is maintained automatically except when you are about to park, with vehicles traveling in three or four altitude ranges, up to a couple hundred feet roughly above existing roads, not vehicles that fly along arbitrary paths, at arbitrary altitudes, etc.

        I would expect the Z axis to depend entirely on which direction you're traveling. A left turn would require you to be above the left la

        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          Oh, like the Jetsons.

          Meanwhile, if you want a practical flying car before we develop antigravity, it's going to look and behave a lot more like a present day aircraft.

    • Re:i hope never (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @07:33PM (#40991805) Journal
      Meh... "real" bikers lament the increased popularity of motorcycles, and old school scuba nuts must hate PADI for making the underwater world accessible to all. I suppose it's only natural that pilots want the skies to themselves. Get off my lawn, but in 3D.

      Still, one would hope that flying car pilots will have to pass the same rigorous difficulty tests, or keep their wheels firmly on the ground. And I think many will be unable to pass such a test. I agree with the article, and my money says flying cars will happen not before autonomous flight (including standard protocols for flight direction) becomes practical.
      • I think it would be better if you had to pass the same tests as a pilot to fly a car, but failing the test means you can't drive a regular car either.

        IMHO, the reason driving is so damn dangerous is because it's too easy to pass the driving test in the first place. What's worse is you can keep going back until you pass and then never have to take the driving test again. I had a cousin that failed three times before "getting lucky" at guessing on the multiple choice test. I also had a grandfather that was
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      As a pilot, I really really really hope this never happens! Most people are BARELY able to keep in control of their vehicles in 2D, and are entirely unsuited for 3D. Keep them away from the skies, so that those of us who passed the difficult tests and demonstrated our ability to handle an aircraft safely can continue to be safe and remain not in danger of idiots cutting us off, not following rules, etc...

      As a person who wants flying cars and to be able to take naps on commutes, I disagree. This could be the break that autonomous land vehicles have been waiting for.

      Step 1. Reserve flying car zones say, 500 feet.
      Step 2. These zones would be for flying cars only. No ultralights, balloons, helicopters, small aircraft or lawn chairs allowed. Just flying cars.
      Step 3. Make flying cars fully automated - no manual controls allowed. You want to go in a flying car? You let the robot drive. You want to drive yourself

      • by sabri (584428) *

        As a person who wants flying cars and to be able to take naps on commutes, I disagree. This could be the break that autonomous land vehicles have been waiting for.

        Step 1. Reserve flying car zones say, 500 feet. Step 2. These zones would be for flying cars only. No ultralights, balloons, helicopters, small aircraft or lawn chairs allowed. Just flying cars. Step 3. Make flying cars fully automated - no manual controls allowed. You want to go in a flying car? You let the robot drive. You want to drive yourself? You stick to two dimensions.

        Like others in this thread, I am a pilot (single engine). You don't want cars flying 500ft, for the following reason:

        Anything that flies, must come down at some point. Either controlled (by the airman or a robot) or uncontrolled (in case of an emergency/engine failure). I spent about 60% of my flight training on emergency handling. What to do in case of an engine failure? What to do in case of an electrical fire? Or fuel starvation?

        Flying at 500ft (the minimum altitude on most airspace) gives you very

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Un pobre guey (593801)
      Flying cars are just a childish baby-boomer dream from the 1950s that somehow refuses to go away. Between safety and fuel economy concerns, it's hard to understand why people keep insisting on it. OK, OK, I get it. It seems like it would be really cool. At least it does if you shut your eyes really tight and wish really, really hard.
      • It is a beautiful fantasy: you are stuck in endless traffic, you push a button on the dash and float into the air, then zoom along effortlessly to your destination while looking down on all the "normal" people stuck in traffic.

        Unfortunately without a major technology breakthrough (which none of the designs are), it will remain a fantasy.

        • That's what I think, but some folks will doggedly try to make the fantasy come true anyway. If it ever happens at all, I can't see it for several decades. The fuel issue is even more limiting than the safety issue, and I don't see the automation being up to par for quite a while. Flying a drone straight and level in a sparsely populated airspace is a far cry from putting a freeway full of cars in the air, with everyone in them hysterically hurrying to their destinations. Just the pick-up and BMW drivers alo
        • by ArcherB (796902)

          It is a beautiful fantasy: you are stuck in endless traffic, you push a button on the dash and float into the air, then zoom along effortlessly to your destination while looking down on all the "normal" people stuck in traffic.

          Unfortunately without a major technology breakthrough (which none of the designs are), it will remain a fantasy.

          I don't understand why we do not have small, one to two-person blimps flying around. The technology is there. They are safe. They might crash into eachother but will more than likely just bounce off. If they do plumet to the earth, they'll do it slow motion.

          We obviously have the technology. No major breakthrough required. What am I missing here?

          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by ThePeices (635180)

            In America, almost half the population has guns. And youre flying in a blimp, as tempting a target as you could think of.

            Not a good mix.

          • I don't understand why we do not have small, one to two-person blimps flying around. The technology is there. They are safe. They might crash into eachother but will more than likely just bounce off. If they do plumet to the earth, they'll do it slow motion. We obviously have the technology. No major breakthrough required. What am I missing here?

            Safe lifting gas? He would be a waste in personal blimps. H is plentiful but the flammability is an issue.
          • I don't understand why we do not have small, one to two-person blimps flying around. The technology is there. They are safe. They might crash into eachother but will more than likely just bounce off. If they do plumet to the earth, they'll do it slow motion.

            We obviously have the technology. No major breakthrough required. What am I missing here?

            I would guess because blimps are slow, not very maneuverable, and have a tough time in bad weather. Personal transportation is about convenience, and so I don't think they fit that niche very well.

            Don't get me wrong though. It would be a much more appealing landscape.

          • by jpmorgan (517966)

            A blimp big enough to carry a person around is enormous. It's also a giant sail, and navigating one in any wind, with any sort of traffic, would be very challenging.

            Consider Top Gear's experience with DIY blimping: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlzQq3nOj5c [youtube.com]

          • by Jeremi (14640)

            We obviously have the technology. No major breakthrough required. What am I missing here?

            They aren't very fast, and they aren't particularly easy to control if there is any wind. Also, they have to be very large in order to lift much weight, which limits the places where they can land without bumping into things.

            And finally, helium is a non-renewable resource, and once it's gone, it's gone. I'm not sure we want to encourage people to use it up more quickly than we already do. (Of course they could use hydrogen instead, but it has its own problems, as any number of Slashdotters are sure to po

    • by mcrbids (148650)

      Every convertible car has the requirement of (at least) a sport pilot's license. I, for one, welcome the flying cars (ahem: roadable aircraft) with open arms! I can't wait for the day I could land my airplane at the local airport, and get an honest-to-god usable carlike thingie to drive to my actual destination!

      The "last mile" problem is a terrible one for GA, you get into your $250,000 aircraft that speeds you to your destination at 150-200 MPH, and you land, only to find that your mobility choices range b

  • by eggstasy (458692) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @07:30PM (#40991771) Journal

    I thought the whole car thing was dying because we're running out of oil.
    Can you build a UAV that carries a whole person AND a stack of lithium batteries?
    Mass transit is still the way to go whether you're flying or not.
    See, for instance, London's new Cable Car. I live in a hilly place and I can't for the life of me imagine why nobody thought it would be useful to simply go from hill to hill.

    http://www.tfl.gov.uk/modalpages/23828.aspx [tfl.gov.uk]

    • I live in a hilly place and I can't for the life of me imagine why nobody thought it would be useful to simply go from hill to hill.

      Because it'd always be an uphill walk to the station.

      (Curious...an answer that's simultaneously serious and stupid.)

  • Once the FAA puts these designs through the wringer, it'll be much the same involved certification process as current aircraft. Time, money and commitment keep most people out of recreational aircraft now, I doubt any of that will change. These are just overpriced new designs.
        http://www.faa.gov/pilots/become/ [faa.gov]

  • Then worry about safety features and regulation.

    Don't stifle creativity. It makes for fewer hilarious prototype videos on YouTube.

  • by joe_frisch (1366229) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @07:39PM (#40991857)

    Aircraft are technically marginal devices - minor increases in weight and drag have a significant effect on their overall performance. The compromises required to allow an aircraft to be used on the road will make it a really poor aircraft. If you read the performance information carefully on the Terrafuga, you will find that it is slow, doesn't carry much weight and has a very limited range.

    People have come to expect a very high level of performance from their cars. The compromises required to make a car operate as an aircraft will make it a poor road vehicle.

    The use case just isn't that compelling. Most of these vehicles will only be able to fly from airport to airport - which are often located in areas with large amounts of traffic. Once at the airport, the usual The pre-flight checks, and taxi / departure clearances will be required. The airplane / cars that have so far been exhibited are also not designed to deal with significant weather, or to operate over high terrain.

    The existing model where you drive your (optimized) car to the airport and then fly your (optimized) airplane to its destination seems better. Rental cars are available at the general aviation terminals at many US airports, generally set up to minimize the time it takes to pick up and drop off.

    • by Jeremi (14640)

      Most of these vehicles will only be able to fly from airport to airport - which are often located in areas with large amounts of traffic.

      Legally, I believe that is the case.

      In actual practice, however, I wonder how many of these vehicles' owners are going to be tempted to take off and land on straight, unpopulated stretches of road? (The trip between LA and Vegas comes to mind)

  • People can barely drive correctly on the ground what with people texting while driving, tailgating or simply being a-holes on the road. Imagine what it will be like in the air and imagine the insurance.

    The FAA and commercial airlines still haven't gotten free flight working and they've been at it for over 20 years. Do you really expect companies designing flying cars to do any better? Even if they can get auto-pilot and auto-collision working in the air (already available in large commercial aircraft), t

  • My first thought was that the gas-consumption and pollution would be significantly higher than with cars. But, I looked up fuel efficiency on wikipedia and it turns out that aircraft don't actually have bad fuel efficiency:

    Airbus states a fuel rate consumption of their A380 at less than 3 L/100 km per passenger (78 passenger-miles per US gallon)
    ...
    Under continuous motorised flight at 225 km/h, a Pipistrel Sinus burns 11 liters of fuel per flight hour. Carrying 2 people aboard, it operates at 2.4 liters p

    • by kidgenius (704962)
      Airplanes dont' burn much fuel....at cruise. Take-off is a completely different matter. That's where the most fuel burn occurs.
    • by Chuckstar (799005)

      These mpg numbers aren't "apples to apples". Aviation fuel has a higher energy density than gasoline, so all else equal, you'd expect to get better mileage anyway.

      Also, something like a Cessna tends to get mileage in the plus/minus 20 mpg range. A flying car would almost certainly be less efficient than a purpose-built aircraft.

      • by riverat1 (1048260)

        Most general aviation piston engined airplanes use pure gasoline. It does have a slightly higher energy density because it's not cut with ethanol as automobile gasoline is but it's not that much different.

  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gweihir (88907) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @07:47PM (#40991941)

    They are fundamentally problematic in several respects:

    1. Piloting. Ordinary people cannot pilot anything flying safely.
    2. Energy consumption. They just consume far too much with energy sources available today.
    3. Landing and takeoff. You cannot do that just anywhere.
    4. Air traffic control. They are already overloaded.
    5. Unsuitable for roads. All designs so far have only very limited suitability as actual cars.

    Unless all of these issues are solved at some point in the future, there will be no flying cars except demonstration stunts. Incidentally, anybody thinking about the issue rationally can come up with the above list easily. There seems to be a mental blockade a lot of otherwise intelligent people have with regard to flying cars.

  • Think further. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by trout007 (975317) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @07:50PM (#40991977)

    Imagine if you did have VTOL personal transports. You could eliminate roads. It would be like what is happening with cell phones eliminating land lines. You would save all of the money currently spent on maintaining infrastructure. Also sprawl would explode as people buy land without worrying about infrastructure. Land prices would plummet in most places.

    If you think Amazon is fast now wait until you place an order and a VTOL drone drops off a package on your front door 10 minutes later.

    It would be a VERY disruptive technology.

    • by khallow (566160)

      Imagine if you did have VTOL personal transports.

      Helicopters. VTOL personal transport has been around a while.

    • Amazon wouldn't use VTOLs. They'd develop a steerable drop-package, and just push the parcels out the back of whatever the civilian version of a C-130 is. Landings are too expensive.

    • by jcr (53032)

      You could eliminate roads.

      That's what makes it a win, economically. We spend insane amounts of money on roads, and if we go to flying cars, roads can all be just for heavy cargo or bicycles. No more need for eight lane highways, and vast amounts of currently extremely valuable urban real estate would be freed up.

      -jcr

  • by mister2au (1707664) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @08:01PM (#40992079)

    Ummm ... no

    Source: 40 years of "Could Flying Cars Actually Be On Their Way?" experience

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Finally, an intelligent analysis! Thank you!

      Because something that hasn't happened yet is NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. That's just logic.

  • With the way I see people drive now, my family included, flying cars are not a good idea
  • Betteridge's Law (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Art3x (973401) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @08:28PM (#40992299)
    No
  • Honestly quite a lot of the people currently driving not-flying cars really shouldn't be. A flying car would have to be a boring device that takes you to a number of pre-set destinations with no operator intervention (Other than setting the destination.) Safely piloting an aircraft in 3 dimensions is simply beyond the abilities of most people.

    Basically the dream is to get where you're going as quickly as possible and not be bothered with traffic. Now if everyone has flying cars, you're probably still goin

  • In order to pilot a plane, you have to be certified pilot. Flight rage anyone?

    Similar to the Mythbusters Jet Pack. Assuming it can carry enough fuel to get somewhere, it won't ever be allowed because there isn't enough of a safety margin.

  • Texting in a car is one thing. People figuring out how to file a flight plan, do all of the calculations necessary, communicate coherently on the radio, get in the air while doing their hair or chitchatting on the phone is a bit worrisome. Having them land safely seems even more implausible.

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