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Transportation Technology

Terrafugia Wants Their Flying Car To Be Autonomous 94

Posted by Soulskill
from the car-industry-meets-drone-industry dept.
Lucas123 writes "Terrafugia, a company that has been working on flying car prototypes for years, said it is now leaning toward an autonomous vehicle for safety reasons. Carl Dietrich, co-founder, CEO and CTO at Terrafugia, said at MIT last weekend that the company wants to build something that is statistically safer than driving a car. 'It needs to be faster than driving a car. It needs to be simpler to operate than a plane. It needs to be more convenient than driving a car today. It needs to be sustainable in the long run,' he said. The company's flyable car is designed with foldable wings and falls into the light sport aircraft category. It's expected to take off and land at small, local airports and to drive on virtually any road. Dietrich said the next-generation flying car is a four-seat, plug-in hybrid that doesn't require the operator to be a full-fledged pilot. A spokeswoman said today that the company is probably two years away from production."
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Terrafugia Wants Their Flying Car To Be Autonomous

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  • by DarkOx (621550) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @08:23AM (#46344711) Journal

    2 years from production and 10 years before the regulators first begin to think about permitting what will be essentially a drone with passengers.

    • a Big Drone, with unknown cargo, going where?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If it has passengers, it's by definition not a drone.

      • by Joce640k (829181)

        The people inside are only cargo. That makes it a drone. [wikipedia.org]

    • by Jahta (1141213)

      2 years from production and 10 years before the regulators first begin to think about permitting what will be essentially a drone with passengers.

      Or perhaps never. Judging from my daily commute, most people struggle to drive safely and sensibly in two dimensions; three will be simply beyond them. And even if you introduce auto-pilot to remove the human driver, there's still things like the difference between keeping a roadworthy vehicle and an airworthy vehicle, and the potentially large volume of such cars compared to the number of aircraft today.

      It will only take one of these cars to come down hard in a built-up area for their use to heavily restr

      • Well I would expect a roboarioauto would probably fail to start if there was anything wrong, or something happened unexpected on the last flight, and demand maintenance.

    • "IMPORTANT-IMPORTANT-IMPORTANT!!!!: To ensure your safety and to show you the credibility of WALIDBEN FINANCE, you do not have money to pay in advance before receiving the transfer slip. The transfer slip is a witness that the tranfer was actually made on your account. Mr. Al-Walid ben Talal Al Saoud , Saudi businessman and chairman of Kingdom Holding Company ( Riyadh — Saudi Arabia ) and WALIDBENFINANCE . Offering a loan within 48 hours . To increase the number of his activities, he gives personal lo
  • Can we PLEASE not fill the sky with autonomous airplanes full of people who no clue how to fly airplanes when (not if) something goes wrong?

    • Is this any better than filling the sky with pilots who fly as well as most people drive? If you think drink-driving is dangerous, wait until a car comes through your roof from a hundred meters up.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Automated system in aircraft respond faster and better to unexpected events then any human.

  • Relying on logic boards will take a bit of the sport out of cursing other drivers for their poor driving skills.

    What are poor drivers, exactly?

    Why, anyone who doesn't drive like you.

    • by JTsyo (1338447)
      I'm sure aggressive drivers would be really pissed if they saw others drive like them.
  • by spiritgreywolf (683532) * on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @08:52AM (#46344927) Homepage Journal

    Okay seriously... I've yet to see a few dozen of the _current_ Terrafugia flying cars roll off a production assembly line (or is it fly?) and here we go chatting about a four-seat plug-in hybrid that doesn't require the pilot to be a be a "full-fledged pilot"? Really? How about actually building and selling something more than a prototype before leaping on the "next-generation" bandwagon already?

    Mr. Deitrich - we're not even close to having something with a power-to-weight ratio in battery storage to get anything but a giant carbon-fiber glider out of ground-effect for any length of time and you have a spokesperson saying something about being only two years away from production?

    Okay, where is he? No really. Is Moller and his Skycar hiding in the weeds someplace behind this company?

    Also, I would think that someone with the money to pull off buying even a low-rider existing Terrafugia prototype - won't have issues learning how to be a "full-fledged pilot". I say this only because I am considering what the monstrous price-tag would be for a semi-autonomous electric-hybrid aircraft capable of carrying four people and having a range of anything beyond running a touch-and-go pattern even once at the airport. That being on top of how long it would take the FAA to approve that kind of vehicle.

    Tilt rotor hybrid for the public? LOL! Yep. I hear we've got a huge shipment of unobtainium coming from Pandora to help in its construction. And as soon as I finish my distillation of my current batch of impossibilium for powering its Infinite Improbability Drive - we're set! Only two years away!

    What amazing times we live in!

    (tongue planted firmly in my cheek while Terrafugia's head is planted firmly in their ass. Hopefully they have a clear acrylic stomach lining so they can see where they're going)

    Apologies in advance for my dour attitude. I put Terrafugia, Moller and any production "flying car" right up there with next generation solar cells cheap enough for everyone and super carbon-nanotube batteries with enormous energy densities being available.

    Oh wait! No... False alarm... No monkeys flying out of my ass yet... I guess I'll have breakfast and carry on with my day... :(

    • The only way I see this working would be for the mega-rich as a more convenient alternative to a helicopter to commute from mansion to office. A private helipad at each end, and it'd be a lot faster than driving. Sure, it might cost a few million dollars, and a few hundred more in fuel each trip, but some people can throw that kind of money away - and would rather not deal with depending on a human pilot.

      • by Viol8 (599362)

        Regulations will probably still mandate having a pilot on board even if he doesn't fly it. In which case they might as well take the money, buy a helicopter in the first place and then a couple of Bentleys with the change.

      • True however I would posit that the technology would be there sooner to retro-fit a piston-powered Robinson R-44 with autonomous technology than creating the magic battery hybrid for clearance through the FAA.

        There definitely are people that have that kind of expendable income, but I am looking at it from the feasibility aspect as well. The technology for near-pilotless hybrid Osprey-like personal aircraft is probably further away than Moller and his imaginary Skycar.

        • Take helicopter. Remove controls. Add piloting computer. Use the weight savings to sound-dampen the interior.

          You can use optical guidance for landing - paint markers on the helipads it can lock on to. With GPS navigation, the basic flight it easy. Only problem technically is that in the event of mechanical failure, the computer won't be so good as an experience human at picking out a landing site and setting down safely.

          I can see a few advantages in convenience though. Get in and dial. No need for a schedul

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Okay seriously... I've yet to see a few dozen of the _current_ Terrafugia flying cars roll off a production assembly line (or is it fly?) and here we go chatting about a four-seat plug-in hybrid that doesn't require the pilot to be a be a "full-fledged pilot"? Really? How about actually building and selling something more than a prototype before leaping on the "next-generation" bandwagon already?

      Dingdingding! Terrafugia is this decade's Moller. Oh shit, this flying car thing is hard! Let's claim that we're waiting for new technology so that we can go back to the drawing board for another two years!

      • by jonwil (467024)

        At least Terrafugia has shown their vehicle in both full driving mode and full flight mode (i.e. not the limited tethered tests that are all that Moller ever showed)

        They have even managed to convince both the FAA (who regulate planes) and NHTSB (who regulate cars) to come to the party and agree on waivers for certain requirements where both agencies differ in the requirements.

        So all the "hard stuff" seems to me to have been solved and its just a matter of getting the production right.

    • Yup. The Hiller museum near here has a "flying car" from the 50's. Really not much has changed in the last 3 generations. The additional weight and drag required to make a vehicle a car, make it a terrible airplane. It may get off the ground, but the performance is terrible. (see the terrafugia which has a slow cruise speed, (100mph) and for its size requires a ton of runway - 1700'). Useful load is only 500 pounds. 23 gallons of gas is 130 pounds, so it just barely carries 2, 170 pound adults.

      Its just ea

      • See, that's the thing. I have a friend that does exactly that - but he went one step further and just parked a small no-frills car at the airport and leaves it there. I'm always surprised at how easy it is to get in and out of small GA airports. But again - it ain't cheap by any stretch. "Save Money" and "Own a Plane" are never two things that live together well - but I will say it's damned convenient with the scenario you describe. In the Terrafugia I would just be too damn worried of getting my wings pran

    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      That was a really insightful argument. I particularly like your cited evidence and well-thought out conclusion. Thanks for making slashdot great!
      • by Chas (5144)

        Howsabout this.

        I don't trust automobiles enough to give up control of them when they only have to deal with two dimensions of travel.
        Adding a third dimension of travel is pretty much right outta there.

        You could say it adds yet another "dimension" to my distrust.

        • That third dimension adds extra layers of safety. In 2D, you have to veer left or right to dodge an obstacle. In 3D, you also have up and down, or any combination thereof, and you can start off flying at a level where there are very few obstacles to begin with.

          • by Chas (5144)

            That third dimension also adds two NEW vectors that have to be constantly monitored.
            Remember, it's not as if only you and a potential obstacle are going to be the only things in the sky.

    • How about F YES?

      Autonomous is about the only sensible way we can implement "flying cars". And it's probably, realistically, the case that the only way we can implement autonomous cars is if they're flying (short of us building out a national grade separated tracked road network that joins every building in the country)

      As someone who hates driving, and hates being forced to drive, and knows damned well the chances of us getting a decent zoning system in most of the US so people can actually live in plac

  • They want their flying car to be completely autonomous. I want their flying car to be released to the public in a completed state, period. And the five dozen other "flying cars" while we're at it that are sitting in development hell because the FAA will not approve them for use. Ever.

    I suspect we are both equally likely to get what we want!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I see they got their priorities right....

    When designing a flying car, my top priority would be to make an actual flying car first, then make it autonomous.

    But then again... I'm not designing a flying car.

  • It will ship with the latest copy of Duke Nukem on the console, when they are in production in "2" years.
  • I hate it when emerging technophiles try to take on too large of a problem... I hate it even more when they try to garner buzz by taking on two. Might as well 3d print it, give it high powers lazer beams and next gen batteries while you're at it.
  • > autonomous

    I do believe that's been the plan for 70 uears now. Also, a hex or octo rotor thing so several engines can go out and it still make a safe landing.

    Let's get a move on.

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      They've just perfected flying monkeys and can control WHERE they fly out of. So it's flying cars' time now.

  • I remember an Arthur C. Clarke story which had in its background a late-era human society (Rescue Party, I think). They had become the ultimate commuter society because conventional automobiles had been replaced by medium-range, personal aircraft that could conveniently travel to any business, home, etc. without needing as much road infrastructure, and which let you build a house up a mountain or in a forest clearing that was as accessible as one on a razed plain. They weren't flying cars, though. They were

    • "IMPORTANT-IMPORTANT-IMPORTANT!!!!: To ensure your safety and to show you the credibility of WALIDBEN FINANCE, you do not have money to pay in advance before receiving the transfer slip. The transfer slip is a witness that the tranfer was actually made on your account. Mr. Al-Walid ben Talal Al Saoud , Saudi businessman and chairman of Kingdom Holding Company ( Riyadh — Saudi Arabia ) and WALIDBENFINANCE . Offering a loan within 48 hours . To increase the number of his activities, he gives personal lo
  • Flying cars will not happen when power-plants get powerful enough, or efficient enough, or reliable enough.

    Flying cars will not happen when the FAA comes up with rules to regulate vehicles that are both airworthy and road-worthy.

    Flying cars most emphatically will not happen when flying-car startups courting venture capital say they'll happen.

    Nope. Flying cars will happen when drones have become ubiquitous enough, trusted enough, and large enough that people start to say, "Hey! If I can hire a drone to carry

    • people start to say, "Hey! If I can hire a drone to carry 250 pounds of cargo across the state for fifty bucks, knowing that it'll show up within 30 minutes, make the trip in an hour, and have less than a one-in-a-million chance of dropping it along the way -- why can't I hire it to carry ME?"

      This right here - truer words have never been spoken :-)

      I recall an outfit I think in Germany that came up with a giant multi-bladed beast to carry a single pilot (looked like a quad-copter but with something like 19 or 20 blades) but the issue is still batteries. Awesome concept - but until something with a battery can handle sustained 1+ hour flights with a 250-300 pound payload, it'll never see the light of day :-(

      Perhaps we should get Elon Musk on it? I'd trust him to do it before Moller and Terrafugia

    • by geekoid (135745)

      "why can't I hire it to carry ME?""
      because you would probably die.

  • Announcement after take off on a commercial fight:

    "Welcome aboard ladies and gentlemen for our flight to Chicago." (continues to discuss the flight altitude, weather in Chicago etc.)

    "And one final announcement before you sit back and enjoy your flight. This airline believes in advanced technology and we are pleased to tell you that you are on the FIRST fully automated commercial flight to fly without pilots. We have thought of every eventuality and have programmed the autopilot to deal with each and ever

  • *facepalm* This guy is saying the painfully obvious without talking about how to make it happen. It's like saying "What the world needs is a Star Trek transporter that's as easy to use as a phone booth."

    • Even then he's not worried that the faux-pilot would dial the wrong number...

      "WTH? I thought I was going to Alberta. Who the Hell are you people? I don't understand anything you're saying. Why is it so hot? And quit waving that damn AK-47 in my face!"

  • Someone needs to watch these two videos to see why we need a human in the loop...
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... [youtube.com]
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... [youtube.com]

  • If this is going to work in big cities, then machine control will probably be a necessity. Manual control would be too risky in crowded skies.

    All that wasted sky above and cars are stuck in a 2D log-jam, why the hell not?

  • I'm moving to the outback. Or Antarctica.

    Cars kill hundreds of thousands every year! Ten of thousands in developed countries alone! They injure millions!
    And they usually don't plummet to the ground in the process...
    I can easily assess whether I'm at risk of being injured in a car accident, because it involves being on or near a road.

    So if your autonomous car isn't, AT THE VERY LEAST, 10x MORE reliable than AIRPLANES (already the safest way to travel horizontally), I don't want my government to allow them.

    Di

  • I've lost count of the number of flying car designs I've seen over the years. It's always seemed a good idea on the surface, but almost no one buys them. Is there a reason to believe this will be different? Other than a "smoke and mirrors" or "whisling in the dark" answer.
  • Two points of clarification for the Slashdot community: 1) Terrafugia's first product, the Transition, is expected to hit the market in 2016 -- about two years from now. It is NOT autonomous. It is a single engine piston aircraft that can fold up its wings in less than 60 seconds, legally drive on roads and highways, and park in a single car garage. Our customers value the additional freedom and flexibility it provides them compared to "normal" aircraft, but you still must become at least a sport pilot

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