While the idea of hovering motor vehicles might once have been considered farfetched, it’s certainly not the case today. Companies around the world are reaching new heights to develop flying cars that could one day be flown by commuters to work or even over longer distances for leisure travel.
UNSW aerospace design expert, Dr Sonya Brown from the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, says the aim of these vehicles is to eventually provide another means of urban air mobility to help reduce congestion on the road.
“Long-term, flying cars will offer us another means for short and personalised travel. We’re starting to see an emergence of flying car variants in development around the world, and even here in Australia, as more companies are investing in these vehicles, she said. “Some early adopters of these technology include rideshare companies and emergency services, given some vehicles are being designed to be more versatile than traditional aircraft and helicopters.”
Flying cars resemble a cross between a drone and a small aircraft, so most will have wings and typically include between four to eight rotors. They can fly a few hundred to a few thousand metres above the ground, occupying the air space above where you’d expect to see drones flying but below standard flying commercial aircrafts.
While it probably won’t get someone from Sydney to Melbourne on one battery charge, flying cars could potentially travel up to 250 kilometres in one ride. “The underlying technology that’s so important with flying cars is the ability to both take off and land vertically and fly horizontally as well. This makes the mechanics much more complex than a helicopter which primarily has vertical propulsion,” said Dr Brown.
Prototypes of flying cars are currently being designed with electrically powered rotors meaning they can be battery operated. As long as the batteries are recharged in a sustainable manner, for example using wind or solar energy, the flying cars won’t emit any harmful emissions into the environment. “Ideally, the aim is to design these green vehicles so that they reduce emissions whilst reducing traffic congestion on the ground as well,” added Dr Brown.
Slow down – flying cars won’t take off just yet, there’s a few bumps to get over first.
Some of the challenges the industry is looking to solve are around regulation and traffic control. Similar to commercial flights, flying cars will need traffic control rules, corridors and flight paths to establish right of way to avoid any potential collisions.
There’s a lot of work going into developing collision avoidance systems, particularly focusing on how these vehicles are going to communicate with each other to make real-time decisions on things such as right of way. There’s also an appetite from industry to make them pilotless or remotely piloted. “Even though future flying cars models could be autonomous, users may need much more experience than a simple driving license to get behind the wheel of one,” concluded Dr Brown.