The early 20th century sought the advent of many vehicles such as the airplane in 1903 and the Ford Model T car in 1908-both of which ushered in a new age of transportation. Safe to say, technology has improved heavily and, ever since, people have been asking the question: “Will there be flying cars in the future?” After all, the combination of a car and an airplane seems like an ideal solution to avoid the mundane traffic and to lower emissions. Fortunately, this Japanese company has taken one step closer to making aviated cars a reality:
Established in 2012, the company, SkyDrive, has recently announced their completion of an SD 03 model which they claim to be “the world’s first manned testing machine.” The aircraft, however, only had one seat and required eight motors and two propellers in order to operate. According to SkyDrive’s chief executive, Tomohiro Fukuzawa, “compared to various prototypes of flying cars, the SD 03 model is more compact in size and lighter compared with other designs”. Between takeoff and landing, the flight time of the SD 03 was about four minutes long.
This new development by SkyDrive has encouraged interest and competition in the creation of flying vehicles. Toyota and Uber, for example, have both agreed to collaborate on the first ever flying taxi. At this rate, analysts believe that flying cars can become a reality in around 2040 with the global market at $2.4 trillion by then.
There are two challenges, however, that serve as obstacles for the invention of these vehicles. The first is the use of safe autonomous technology for the aircraft vehicles to take flight. “These vehicles need to look at their environment, assess the situation, and act accordingly”, says Engineering Professor Derya Aksaray. “They cannot wait for a pilot or an operator to say, ‘Now do this, now do that’. We cannot wait for that kind of micromanagement of the vehicle.” In other words, the AI of the vehicle must be smart enough to take appropriate action on its own and cannot wait for input. This ensures safe and reliable aviated travel.
The other challenge is structure as the vehicles should be sturdy enough to carry heavy weight, yet light enough to fly at lower altitudes. Therefore, Professor Ella Atkins, who teaches Aerospace Technology at the University of Michigan, expresses the practicality of these vehicles: “They are going to be more energy efficient than helicopters that use a lot of fuel but they will be less energy efficient than cars because they have to lift themselves. From a cost perspective, they won’t be practical to go to the grocery store”.
Overall, Professor Aksaray sums it up best: We’re at the entrance phase. We don’t have the mass production we would need to buy down the costs of all the development, research, and protocols of these vehicles.” However, these companies such as SkyDrive, Toyota, and Uber continue their struggles to make the dream of flying cars a reality. As Professor Aksaray concludes, “If this becomes successful, I think that would definitely create a different means of transportation. We are going to benefit a lot by reducing congestion and overcoming the geographical constraints of ground mobility.”