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Sci-Fi Transportation Technology

Where are the Flying Cars? (Video; Part Two of Two) 66

Posted by Soulskill
from the fly-me-to-the-moon dept.
Yesterday we ran Part One of this two-part video. This is part two. To recap yesterday's text introduction: Detroit recently hosted the North American Science Fiction Convention, drawing thousands of SF fans to see and hear a variety of talks on all sorts of topics. One of the biggest panels featured a discussion on perhaps the greatest technological disappointment of the past fifty years: Where are our d@%& flying cars? Panelists included author and database consultant Jonathan Stars, expert in Aeronautical Management and 20-year veteran of the Air Force Douglas Johnson, author and founder of the Artemis Project Ian Randal Strock, novelist Cindy A. Matthews, Fermilab physicist Bill Higgins, general manager of a nanotechnology company Dr. Charles Dezelah, and astrobiology expert Dr. Nicolle Zellner. As it turns out, the reality of situation is far less enticing than the dream -- but new technologies offer a glimmer of hope. (Alternate Video Link)

Speaker 4: Would you perceive like a flying car being something that would be jet powered or would it be something that would be powered by say helicopter-type blades. What would you see as being the necessary mode of creating thrust? It wouldn’t be a flying machine based on lift because of obvious limitations in terms of takeoff and landing, so obviously you’re going more with something with hover capability, vertical landing, vertical takeoff in terms of what you would envision it being. I’ve seen some science fiction movies, whether cars with say four directional jets that can compensate with lateral movements and do you see something like that ever being feasible at all in terms of coming to market?

Speaker 2: Yeah, in the movies, I think the nicest flying cars in the movies operate on antigravity because in the movies they can suspend the vehicle from strings and then paint out the strings.

Speaker 6: Hollywood. Grr....

Speaker 2: Right. But speaking as someone who works in a big physics lab, I hate to disappoint you but I don’t think we’re going to deliver antigravity any time real soon. So we fall back on good old Isaac Newton and then we _____ are we thrusting straight down under jets, thrusting – _____ experience tells me that you use up your propellant really, really fast if you try to use a jet engine or god forbid, a rocket engine to stay in the air. And that actually makes you appreciate how clever the Wright brothers really were and how much a little engine, how much benefit you can get from your little engine if you have wings or later on, rotors. Hey, those are actually really nice ways of using much less fuel to stay in the air. And Alberto Santos-Dumont in 1906 experimented with aircraft and early motor cars, lived in Paris, a Brazilian who lived in Paris. He actually built a small rotor driven airship and he would get his minions to take it out of the barn and he would get aboard and he would fly into Paris and moor his airship to a lamppost or something

Audience: To one of his favorite restaurants.

Speaker 2: And his favorite restaurant, yeah, and that was his flying car, okay. I don’t think you could see sort of artists of that time, sort of science fiction artists of that time imagining the sky full of personal airships, I think then we have – we have given that a century and it hasn’t come and maybe we don’t actually want to fill our sky with personal airships, but that’s actually the most efficient way of lifting yourself into the sky, so I think it’s down to something like rotors rather than building high stress jet engines all around your vehicle and for that time – my favorite times are fictional flying cars or you know projected future flying cars from all these dreams have a shrouded rotor, those are called ducted fan vehicles, usually several of them. I think that maybe a fantasy police car has this kind of thing, I don’t know, but what’s another good example.

Speaker 6: Judge Dredd’s motorcycle.

Speaker 2: Okay, Judge Dredd has a flying motorcycle, so I guess that will be my way to bet on practical flying cars if that kind of type two flying car came about.

Cindy A. Matthews: I still think...

Jonathan Stars: Okay, now we are at 12:30, we’ll open it up to some questions or did you have something you wanted to add on, why don’t we do that before that?

Speaker 6: Just a quick one is I actually wanted to ask the panel. We have been talking about creating these things, but we didn’t actually ask what is it we want our flying cars to do, just as if we are talking about flying across the state or flying across the ocean, you need two completely different types of airplanes. Can we do pretty much everything that these flying cars would enable us to do anyway?

Cindy A. Matthews: Why not just go ahead and make it go across town or local?

Speaker 6: All right, so what we need is a transporter. We need transporters. Okay.

Speaker 7: Tardis. I’d settle for a Tardis.

Cindy A. Matthews: Like we say is the world becoming a village and we can live wherever we want, we can live up in the northwest territories and then come down to Toronto everyday and work or however. I can see that especially for a Canadian, you know, but is it something that we really need to fill up our skies with, I don’t know about use of the money right now, but I can say for some people possibly that could seem like it might work, but the thing is it’s kind of like the flying doctors in Australia and in Canada, places like that. It just works when you live in rural areas, but in urban areas, I don’t know why are we not putting more money into mass transit and trying to educate people and change their mindset. Why aren’t we using the mass transit that we have and improve on that? Why don’t we have a bullet train, I think that should revolutionize mass transit, that could be possibly it, but it would be mass transit and not a privately owned flying car.

Speaker 6: I told _____ which is science fiction writers _____ so when we saw the flying cars they were thinking _____ work at home rather than going _____ 100 miles away.

Cindy A. Matthews: Right.

Speaker 2: That was a_____

Cindy A. Matthews: _____ hands on with people. They have to be

Speaker 7: But there is lot of remote control medical diagnoses as well, when you think about like the winter _____ in Antarctica. They are getting their medical diagnosis online.

Audience: There’s still a doctor there.

Speaker 4: Just to expand on Nicole’s ideas, I was at a conference few weeks ago and that’s going to become huge in the U.S. for a doctor that is in India and has a smartphone with a chip in it watching and the lab work is going to be done somewhere else and maybe the surgeon is doing it remotely and that very well could be the future. It’s already here... if I could reach the point where travel becomes something that is done electronically.

Speaker 2: When you develop your successful flying car product and you start selling, you will be selling it to people who live in the world now, so you will be selling it either to people who live downtown or people who live in suburbia or people who live in Saskatoon and want to get to Calgary and you are trying to sell to the people to whom it will be useful and you grow it, but as the market grows, if more and more people start to buy some kind of flying car product, so that will be a reason for social change where more people move to Saskatoon or in the summer move to Saskatoon so there’s two scenarios here, how does this begin and you could write a story about the pioneers who were trying to use the earliest flying cars or selling the earliest flying cars or what happens if it continues for a while, how will a world change after many decades, what would cities look like, what would summers look like, what would the rural area look like is the sky full of flying cars.

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Where are the Flying Cars? (Video; Part Two of Two)

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  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @04:11PM (#47673125) Journal
    We have flying cars. They care called 'helicopters'. Widely used, widely available, you probably don't own and/or can't afford one.

    As with so much of a certain genre of science fiction, the 'flying car' is more a fiction about how 'the future' would exist as though post WWII advances in the American middle class were going to continue following their upward trajectory all the way to personal flying cars 4 hour workdays.

    Instead, availability of things (like basically anything based on transistors) that have become radically cheaper is broader than most would have imagined (Dear ENIAC design team, how probable do you think it is that people who lack clean water or adequate food will be using vastly more powerful computers to send text messages to one another in less than a century?); but 'science fiction' that requires simply owning a big enough slice of the pie to implement with today's, or yesterday's, technology? Probably more distant now than it was then.
    • Flying Car != car that flies. Flying car is a vehicle that flies that supplants the automobile as the primary mode of transportation. Think cell phones replacing telephones, cars replacing horses, or personal computers replacing typewriters. The helicopter hasn't replaces the car. It isn't what these people are talking about.
      • A lot of the flying car prototypes that have been produced, especially in the era when the term was most relevant, were quite literally "flying cars" or "cars that fly", or whichever other way you prefer to phrase it. For example:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F... [wikipedia.org] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F... [wikipedia.org]

        Besides the technical challenges of making a vehicle that is suitable for both everyday road use and use in the air - some of which are simply inherent to the concept (like the compromise between building a stro
        • Shamelessly copying another post to expand on how aircraft and road car designs are difficult to reconcile:

          "A good car has down force and sticks to the road. A good plane does the opposite. I was at a flight museum that had a flying car on display and it was described as something like a "Mediocre car, and mediocre plane" Not that it's impossible, but the most basic attributes of a plane and car are contradictory."
          • by Rei (128717)

            Disagree. A good car doesn't have down force (beyond gravity), downforce means aerodynamic drag, a good car should rely only on the force of gravity for its grip. The things that help a plane also make a car more fuel efficient - streamlining and lightweight construction. Cars have slightly different streamlining reqs due to operating near the ground, but the general principles are the same. Of course you've got wheels out there, but so do many light planes. Lightweight construction is often described as th

            • by Rei (128717)

              Also, I'll add that you missed the obvious criticism of flying cars - the "dropping out of the sky upon failure" one ;) Any realistic "flying car" is going to have to have some really dang good failsafe mechanisms not only to protect its occupants in such a case, but people on the ground as well.

    • by gurps_npc (621217)
      Helicopters are good, but I personally think that powered parachutes are a better fit for the concept of a flying car.

      1) They are cheap - $5-10 thousand dollars. 2) They take a lot less training (Sport pilot license takes only about 12 hours, and you can have a passenger.), as opposed to 35+ hours.

      Their main problem is there low speed, 35 mph on the ground or the air, and the fact that you really shouldn't drive or fly them at night (without a better license) and you can't fly them very high.

      Also, they

      • How do I move my furniture accross town in a parachute?... Wait nevermind I can see it now. A flock of shutes attached to a bed, dresser, and flatscreen. All attached with rope to a drone pulling things along.
  • by surfdaddy (930829) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @04:15PM (#47673163)
    ...I can tell you that there are a myriad of problems here. It's not that easy to build an aircraft that is rugged for road use. Flying is particularly unforgiving of mistakes versus driving (think of all the idiot drivers out there). And the regulatory environment is hideously complex and expensive. Finally, think of all the traffic and fatalities with collisions if there were truly any significant number of "cars" commuting in the air. I just don't see it happening in any easy way.
    • Flying is particularly unforgiving of mistakes versus driving (think of all the idiot drivers out there)

      This is my hang up as well.

      Most people with driver's licenses aren't properly trained, and thus can't be trusted to successfully operate a vehicle in two dimensions - and someone wants to give them a third? Madness.

      • by DShard (159067)

        I'm not a pilot. My argument against them, when I grew out of my teen fantasy world, was always "What the hell am I going to do 1000 feet in the air when my gas runs out?" The failure mode of a car is pull it to the side of the road and put your hazard lights on. The failure mode to a flying car is to crash it into the ground. This of course convinces absolutely no one who was enthusiastic about the idea that you should, for the sake of safety, avoid crossing underneath skyways.

        • IANAPilot but I did complete most of the requirements for a single-engine license (many hours in the air as co-pilot).
          Running out of fuel is actually one of the best "failure modes" you can hope to happen in an aircraft. So are other engine-related problems. If your engine stops, the plane doesn't fall down, it becomes a (rather poor) glider. You do need to keep steadily descending so you don't go into an aerodynamic stall which will drop the plane - but if there is a field or other area nearby suitable to
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by timeOday (582209)
        Surely a big part of the Flying Car Dream is making them safe enough for everybody to operate - which is to say, highly automated.
        • Surely a big part of the Flying Car Dream is making them safe enough for everybody to operate - which is to say, highly automated.

          There won't be such a thing as a flying car that's safe enough for everybody to operate, until after somebody invents some form of levitating propulsion that requires no fuel. OR we require everyone who wants a license to go through a very, very strict training program, probably re-upping every few years (like pilots have to do).

          Quick, somebody clone Nikola Tesla!

          • by Sperbels (1008585)

            until after somebody invents some form of levitating propulsion that requires no fuel

            If only there was some kind of balloon like device to raise our buoyancy so we could float in the air.

            • ...and If only we had envelopes that would hold such a light gas without leaking it the heck out through every surface, or otherwise leak away the characteristic (heat) that makes it light... and if only such a technology didn't require such a large envelope as to function as a highly effective sail in any high prevailing wind such that it would take a huge amount of energy to counter said impetus... and if only we had a place to store such a large envelope... and if only such a device wouldn't cost seven f

              • by Sperbels (1008585)
                I didn't say it was practical. Taken in context, I was merely saying we have flying devices that don't plummet to the ground when they run out of gas.
            • Dude.

              Rigid airships FTW!

          • by timeOday (582209)
            How do you figure? There's no reason, for example, an aircraft couldn't say, "our destination is over the ocean, but we don't have enough fuel for that, so I'm stopping for gas now..." It would be like riding a horse, if you ask it to walk into a wall, it just looks at you funny.
            • How do you figure?

              Most people aren't pilots; in that, they aren't trained to do things like walkarounds of their vehicles before every trip, or calculate and ensure the amount of fuel they're going to need for their journey.

              seriously, look at the way people operate their cars in two dimensions - do you really think it's a good idea to let those same morons drive in the same moronic fashion, but over your head?

              There's no reason, for example, an aircraft couldn't say, "our destination is over the ocean, but we don't have enough fuel for that, so I'm stopping for gas now..." It would be like riding a horse, if you ask it to walk into a wall, it just looks at you funny.

              That makes absolutely no sense, and I fail to see what relevance it has to my comment.

              • by Rei (128717)

                That makes absolutely no sense, and I fail to see what relevance it has to my comment.

                It makes perfect sense, so you clearly have no conception of what the person is proposing.

                You're talking about flying where someone holds onto a stick and manipulates control surfaces, They're talking about flying where they punch in "123 Maple Street" and the computer flies them there. One could of course allow both modes of flight, but the latter is what most people envision (or at least what I thought most people envisi

          • by tibit (1762298)

            Quick, somebody clone Nikola Tesla!

            I don't want someone, who later in life didn't seem to grasp basic experimental evidence before him, to have anything to do with designing, well, anything.

            • Quick, somebody clone Nikola Tesla!

              I don't want someone, who later in life didn't seem to grasp basic experimental evidence before him, to have anything to do with designing, well, anything.

              Well, bad news then - that man designed a lot of the technology that you're using right this second (alternating current, for example), and developed the concept for technologies that are just now becoming feasible (like the internet and wireless charging).

              Personally, I think you're just trolling with this comment.

              • by tibit (1762298)

                No. The guy was a lunatic. Sure, he came up with a bunch of useful stuff, but the wireless charging we have now has nothing to do whatsoever with what Tesla envisioned. It is very unfortunate that the two are denoted using the similar words, because they are far from the same. The wireless charging we have now works like an air gap in a transformer core. That effect was known well before Tesla. OTOH, his wireless energy transfer ideas would have only worked in some alternative universe with different laws o

                • No. The guy was a lunatic. Sure, he came up with a bunch of useful stuff,

                  So, still a greater contributor to society than this particular detractor (that would be you).

                  That's all I needed to hear.

                  • by Rei (128717)

                    Tilbit is absolutely correct, though. Nicholai Tesla did some great work, mainly in his early years, but he increasingly started making claims without any serious experimental or theoretical backing whatsoever to drum up public interest, many of which are in complete violations of the laws of physics. A lot of his claims were based on "evidence" along the lines of "It was 30 degrees yesterday and it's 40 degrees today, therefore next year Earth will be vaporized." And in a lot of cases he appears to have ou

    • by Twinbee (767046)
      Noise and battery capacity are far bigger problems. We can have a proper driving test and it won't be trivial to pass. Worst comes to worst, AI can control the car.

      But even without AI control, each flying car can be repelled from each other flying car, using a 3D radar system. A sort of magnetic field where the closer you get, the stronger the repelling force. That alone would prevent catastrophic collision.
    • by AaronLS (1804210)

      A good car has down force and sticks to the road. A good plane does the opposite. I was at a flight museum that had a flying car on display and it was described as something like a "Mediocre car, and mediocre plane" Not that it's impossible, but the most basic attributes of a plane and car are contradictory.

    • by gurps_npc (621217)
      Unforgiving of mistakes should vanish in less than 10 years - autopilots keep getting better and they can already take off and land.

      I always think the real problems is speed/range. To get any reasonable amount of power for either speed or range, it costs a lot of money AND you need to carry so much fuel that the aircraft starts looking more and more like a helicopter.

  • by MRe_nl (306212) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @04:19PM (#47673189)

    Number of fatal traffic-accidents soars
    As flying cars take off.

  • Flying cars work just fine. They're called quadcopters. They're just not for people. Like space travel. The future belongs to robots.

  • by goodmanj (234846) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @04:40PM (#47673337)

    The dreams of golden age science fiction came in two varieties: technologies that require massive amounts of energy and power (jetpacks, flying cars, space colonies) and technologies that require incredible control of matter on the microscopic and atomic scale (electronics, biochemistry, etc.) We've mostly failed to make progress in the first category, but we've surpassed the wildest dreams of every 1950s sci-fi author in the second.

    • Have we really surpassed SiFi expectations? We don't have humanoid robots, intelligent computers, or unlimited longevity. We haven't cured cancer. Our computers have lots of "flops" and "gigabytes" but they don't do nearly as much as was expected in the 50s. We have moderately stronger materials, but nothing really amazing compared to 50's tech. (Ultra-strong metallic whiskers have been known for a long time). We don't have 3-d projectors in common use, and we can't 3d print our food. (mostly)

      Communicat

      • by goodmanj (234846)

        I deliberately left out things that are impossible, useless, or poorly defined. I suspect most of the items you mention are in this third category, but time will tell.

      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        Yep, basically the only thing where we really excelled was in communications technology. People in the 50s barely imagined the level of communications we have today.

        Everything else has been underwhelming.

    • by Grishnakh (216268)

      Space colonies don't require that much energy; they just require an up-front investment to send the necessary infrastructure up to space on rockets. Once up there, they could harvest asteroids or moons for raw materials and use that to build. Also, in space there's lots of solar power available.

  • They're still enforcing their laws.

  • Think about the drawbacks to flying cars: 1.) Amount of energy required to keep a car in the air versus on the ground. 2.) How many broken down cars do you see on the side of the road every day on an average commute? Now imagine they all crashed from an altitude of 100' or more. 3.) FAA would never allow flying cars to travel at low altitude over residential areas, thus forcing all flying cars to fly over existing roads, negating any benefit of a flying car, since it would still be "stuck in traffic" 4.) T
  • Just in case we all get our flying cars soon, I am going to buy up all the car washes. Have you ever had to wash a small plane? They get very big very quick ;)

    Any. Day. Now. Just a couple more physical problems to work out. Then we will easily solve the issues of who can fly em, and where, and when. The issue of cost will solve itself with volume, once everyone has one, everyone will be able to afford them ;) Breeding enough of the Rainbow farting unicorns to power them may take a little longer so be patie

  • by davids-world.com (551216) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @06:43PM (#47673971) Homepage
    OK, so at Oshkosh a couple weeks ago, I had lunch (by chance) with a guy from Terrafugia. The food was poor, but the stories were good.

    They flew in their prototype at last year's AirVenture. The video looks good. What you're going to get is a roadster/plane with foldable wings. I'm saying roadster, because it's going to have two seats - not because it's going to drive like a sports car. This will make it qualify as a Light Sports Aircraft, which means that pilots won't need a medical (important for many). Licensing is a little simpler, too, although everyone I know goes for their full PPL.

    As an airplane, it's not particularly fast (93kts cruise - slower than your typical Cessna 172 Skyhawk), and it maxes out at 460lbs payload (full fuel, I guess), if the specs I have are correct. It drinks 100LL or premium motor gas (which is cheaper), and goes some 400+nm, though I'm not sure if that is with reserves (you need 30min day VFR, 45 at night, and typically you want more).

    The person working on this at Terrafugia advertised it as a plane that's great for a business trip, because it will get you home most of the time: if the weather is bad, you just land and drive around the weather. That's a neat concept.

    The price? At Oshkosh, they were saying around $270k. I asked about insurance, and it sounds like there will be separate insurance policies for road/air use, and it seems that the road policy more expensive than a car insurance (they said 3% of hull value), because of the added utility (more miles driven/flown). I'm not sure if I follow that reasoning.

    For comparison, you can buy a used Bonanza for much much less, and you'll get a lot more airplane for your money. You will also get a new Cirrus SR20 around that price point (but that's a plane, and as such not as practical). In the long run, as prices come down, I get see how this is going to be practical for a lot of people that need to travel for work (or can afford to go places for fun).

    • by fyngyrz (762201)

      The price? At Oshkosh, they were saying around $270k

      Nah, for that amount of money I'd rather buy a used exoticar and try my best to make it fly. Plus, chicks dig exoticars. Mine does, anyway.

  • Considering how poorly most people drive, I'm GLAD there are no flying cars.

Some programming languages manage to absorb change, but withstand progress. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982

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