Up and away: Car travel’s next frontier?

Developers, engineers and entrepreneurs alike are fixing their sites on the skies as the next great space in which to operate cars. This, apparently, is being driven by a quest to improve the travel landscape with regard to safety, efficiency and appeal if not user- and eco-friendliness. We’re talking flying-car travel here.

So, pertaining to this there are as yet many questions to be answered, such as will the platform be human-guided or autonomous, internal-combustion-engine, electric motor, solar-powered or atmospherically or air-propelled? Will it be goods- or passenger-movement specific or both? If exclusively personal-passenger oriented, what will be the maximum number of people a dimension on this order can or should haul? What if bigger passenger counts is the goal – how is this going to factor into the design? And, what about speed – how fast are allowed speeds going to be?

While there have undoubtedly been myriad conjured-up schemes announced and revealed over the past millennium, very few, relatively speaking, have made it from concept to practical application, meaning everyday use, really. Rocketry seems to be the field as of late where most of the breakthrough advances in transportation and/or travel have been made.

Flying cars: All bets are on

If I remember accurately what was reported in the NOVA production “Great Electric Airplane Race” that recently aired on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television network, aviation over the next decade is expected to become much more active with a possible doubling of aviation activity by 2030. What’s more, according to the show’s narrator, Miles O’Brien, there are now over 200 startups engaged in work in the personal-electric-aircraft-development domain.

By virtue of that number alone, ample evidence is thus provided that interest in bringing the flying-car concept to reality is strong.

With that being said, there remain two critical problem areas to overcome: How to keep flying cars airborne and how to prevent flying-car-to-flying-car collisions. FYI: Already familiar to us is the issue of errant drones entering commercial airline space.

As to the first issue, the solution will in all likelihood depend on the mechanics (characteristics) involved. And regarding issue number two, in using a conventional system for air traffic control, as to the level of sophistication needed to prevent collisions mid-air, in a system of this nature, that needed capability might not be there. In other words, such a system might prove to be inadequate. With this in mind, something on the order of full computer control may ultimately be what’s mandated.

As such, theoretically the sophistication level could be less than what would be the case with the autonomous motor vehicle platform, so as to maintain system/performance integrity, being that in the sky-based operational environment, navigationally-related variables involved again, theoretically, could be fewer than with that of the comparable ground-based platform. Flying cars, depending upon direction of flight, could fly at different altitudes thereby lessening the chances of mid-air crashes from ever happening.

Providing the flying-car platform gets federal regulatory approval and, to use a pun, gets off the ground, what will be the propulsion technology sanctioned? Hydrogen fuel-cell, battery-electric, internal-combustion-engine powered, or will it be a combination of the internal combustion and electric, which otherwise goes by the name hybrid, or something else entirely? What absolutely needs to be emphasized here is that it’s imperative flying cars stay in designated lanes and neither invade commercial nor drone airspace.

If internal-combustion power becomes the propulsion means of choice, and I know this is a big if, that is if the day arrives where flying cars become a regular fixture, then an associated downside is that the domain will be one more area contributing greenhouse gases and adding airborne chemical toxicants.

That said, what remains to be seen is if the flying-car sphere can rise from its current experimental-/provisional-status to one which is totally accepted and approved.

FYI: The PBS NOVA episode the “Great Electric Airplane Race” is scheduled for rebroadcast this evening June 29, 2022.

– Alan Kandel

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This post was last updated on June 29, 2022 at 9:07 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.