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Transportation Hardware Technology

Is the World Ready For Flying Cars? (engadget.com) 251

An anonymous reader shares a report from TechCrunch, adding: "Is the world ready for flying cars? Sebastian Thrun, the supposed godfather of autonomous driving, and several other tech investors seem to think so." From the report: At TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017, Thrun talked a lot about flying cars and how that was the future of transportation. So did GGV's Jenny Lee, a prolific investor in China. And so did Steve Jurvetson, one of the original investors in SpaceX. The technical backbone for flying cars seems to be there already -- with drones becoming ever-present and advancements in AI and self-driving cars -- but the time is coming soon that flying cars will be the primary mode of transportation. "I can't envision a future of highways [and being] stuck in cars," Thrun said. "I envision a [future] where you hop in a thing, go in the air, and fly in a straight line. I envision a future where Amazon delivers my food in the air in five minutes. The air is so free of stuff and is so unused compared to the ground, it has to happen in my opinion."

Cars today are forced to move on a two-dimensional plane (ramps, clover intersections and tunnels set aside), and while self-driving cars would make it easier for cars to talk to each other and move more efficiently, adding a third dimension to travel would make a lot of sense coming next. Thrun pointed to airplane transit, which is already a "fundamentally great mass transit system." Jurvetson said he was actually about to ride in a flying car before he "watched it flip over" before arriving to talk about some of the next steps in technology onstage. So, there's work to be done there, but it does certainly seem that all eyes are on flying cars. And that'll be enabled by autonomous driving, which will probably allow flying cars to figure out the most efficient paths from one point to the next without crashing into each other.
Lee said that China is closely analyzing changes in transportation, which might end up leading to flying cars. "I do want to highlight that there's going to be huge disruption within the transportation ecosystem in China," Lee said. "Cars going from diesel to electric. China has about 200 million install base of car ownership. In 2016, only 1 million cars are electric. The Chinese government hopes to install 5 million parking lots that are electric... Even the Chinese OEMs are buying into flying taxis."
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Is the World Ready For Flying Cars?

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  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2017 @11:37PM (#55229385)

    No.

    Have you seen the way people drive in only two dimensions?

    • Autonomous Vehicles (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @12:22AM (#55229495) Journal

      Have you seen the way people drive in only two dimensions?

      I think that's why we are hearing this from someone who works on autonomous vehicles. The only way we are going to have flying cars is if there is a computer driving it to stop us doing something stupid.

      • Would these be the same type of computers that currently control fly by wire aircraft yet still have to hand back control to the pilots if conditions exceed their pre-programmed limits? Yeah, I can see that handover going well with a flying car and a "driver" who doesn't have a first clue what to do next.

        • Would these be the same type of computers that currently control fly by wire aircraft yet still have to hand back control to the pilots if conditions exceed their pre-programmed limits?

          No, because clearly that would not be acceptable. However, if we have almost solved the problem of autonomous driving in 2D it should be easier to solve in 3D because there are fewer obstacles and more ways to avoid them. Autopilots, while limited, have been around on aircraft for years. What we need is some combination of the two so that flying cars can not only fly automatically but also take off and land.

    • by hambone142 ( 2551854 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @02:18AM (#55229801)

      Airplane maintenance is much more critical than automobile maintenance because of the potential for death and destruction should an airplane undergo mechanical failure. That maintenance would be very costly. Also with increased quantities of flying objects above us, the probability of crashes would greatly increase. Add to that a myriad of other things that could go wrong and my response is "NO", we are not ready for flying vehicles.

      If it's so "possible", then why aren't all airplanes currently flying themselves? Yes, I understand what auto pilot is but I also understand what it is not. That is why we have air traffic controllers. Imagine what would happen if we had millions more objects flying above us.

      I think I'd opt to live in a cave if that were to occur.

      • My answer would have been that world might be, but the monkeys who currently run it aren't.

        You've changed my mind.

      • "I think I'd opt to live in a cave if that were to occur."

        Won't be completely safe there either. But it's probably safer than being out in the open. I think the next cave over has a for sale sigh. I'd go out and look, but it's rush hour. Any thoughts about what to do about the humidity in these caves? Or on solving the orc problem?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mSparks43 ( 757109 )

      having just started flying helicopters. im fairly sure there will never be flying cars.

      the reason is not technical, training, or even regulatory. its maintenance.

      remember all the cars youve ever seen broken down at the side of the road. If they were flying cars they would all be coffins.

      preemptive maintainance is what makes flying expensive. and no amount of automating piloting will change that. modern planes and helicopters basically already fly themselves.

    • I predict a new YouTube channel called: Will it Fly? [youtube.com]
  • by spiritgreywolf ( 683532 ) * on Tuesday September 19, 2017 @11:49PM (#55229421) Homepage Journal

    Not a chance in Hell. People can't drive regular cars today, and my biggest fear about autonomous driving is what little skill people have will be neutered away until they cannot safely drive anything at all.

    Sorry - but I'm still pissed that all we ever got was Moller and his useless, bullshit "Skycar" that never had a chance in hell, coupled with a number of "roadable aircraft" like the Icon, Terrafugia, PAL-V, et. al., that are now and will always will be nothing but toys for the idle rich.

    Flying Cars? As said in my best Lumberg impersonation - "Uhhhhhmmmmm Yeahhhhhhhhh".

    Flying cars are the pipe-dreams we grew up reading about in the 70's Popular Mechanics magazines. It was fiction then - and it's fiction now. The best we have are Lipo batteries that to carry anything useful for any distance would be dangerous as f**k. Or we could be that dude on the turbine-powered hoverboard with a backpack full of kerosene? I forget his name/link but it's cool - but again, never gonna happen for the regular Joe.

  • by Sigma 7 ( 266129 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2017 @11:55PM (#55229433)

    "Is the world ready for flying cars?" is just like asking if the world is ready for helicopters.

    Given how you've seen most people drive, it's just as unlikely they'll safely pilot aircraft either. You'll have long stretches of crashed vehicles, and so on.

  • 7 minute abs (Score:5, Informative)

    by mattwarden ( 699984 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @12:12AM (#55229465)

    Is this the tech VC's version of the 7 Minute Abs pitch? "Why would anyone travel in two dimensions when they can travel in three?"

    It's a little more complicated than that. Here are some things that don't matter so much in 2D road travel but matter a lot when you're flying
    * wind, winds changing at higher altitudes, and wind shear
    * Air speed vs ground speed
    * Heading vs ground track
    * Convective weather (at takeoff, all along path of travel, and at destination)
    * Air density (at takeoff, all along path of travel, and at destination)
    * Vehicle weight for takeoff and travel, and weight changes as fuel burns
    * Lift characteristics at altitude (at takeoff, all along path of travel, and at destination)
    * Ability to descend safely if a system fails (single engine?) or you are crashed into
    * Empty gas tank doesn't fail gracefully
    * Inability to stop moving (probably)
    * Obstacles (hills, mountains, towers, buildings
    * Etc

    As someone who flies, I am (a) certain there will be some sort of flying vehicle some day, and (b) aware there is a lot to figure out. These are all obviously solvable problems because people already do fly. It's just hugely expensive and requires a lot of training (relative to driving). What we are talking about here is ModelT-izing flight which will require a lot of idiot proofing including expensive redundancy while at the same time really driving down the purchase and operational costs of flying. These are not small problems, and these problems are not analogous to the problems of autonomous driving.

    • Re:7 minute abs (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @02:49AM (#55229835) Homepage

      Even if we ignore all that and assume we got computers handling all the flying relative both to the environment and other flying cars and making sure it always in range it's a no-go because of:

      1) Safety zones and noise
      2) Catastrophic failure modes
      3) Energy consumption

      • It has it's own set of problems, but Elon's Boring Company has the same goal: 3-D transportation, but underground rather than in the air. It doesn't face any of the problems you raise, but the downside is that currently tunnels are too expensive.
    • the energy costs are a main factor, too.

      in some places where it makes sense, people use small helicopters regularly(australia). even for herding cattle.

      the real question to ask is when will the world get tired of dolts speaking about stuff that people have been speaking for 60+ years.

      like.. singularity. it's been a theme in scifi since the forties.

      do we have it? haha no and we don't even have a path to it. doesn't stop a lot of people making their entire living by talking about it. it's easy to sound smart

      • like.. singularity. it's been a theme in scifi since the forties.

        I'd bet that flying cars are the most common futuristic scifi tech across all scifi movies, second only to artificial intelligence. Definitely more common than time-machines, warp-drives, world-peace, or light sabers.

    • You're saying obstacles don't matter in 2D?
      Well then.

  • The technical backbone for flying cars seems to be there already

    Has anti-gravity been invented? No? Then the technology is not there yet. Cars falling out of the sky is not an acceptable solution.

    • Has anti-gravity been invented? No? Then the technology is not there yet. Cars falling out of the sky is not an acceptable solution.

      You are so right. Without a technology similar to that, flying cars will remain, most likely, a pipe dream. At best they will be products for the elite, just as helicopters have always been.

  • Flying cars? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @12:26AM (#55229499)

    If I were writing a science fiction story, I wouldn't include flying cars as an element.

    Rather, I'd just make 'travel pods' - comfortable compact living quarters equipped with entertainment/work surfaces, storage, and seats that convert smoothly into beds - all within a strict volume/weight, all in a small geo-stabilized shock mount.

    All transportation would take these pods. Cars, helicopters, boats, spacecraft, and essentially everything else. Most of these vehicles would be somewhat crude-looking frameworks compared to our current fashionable vehicles - but few would care, as the method of getting there are just details, and not the important part, very few would put any status into it.

    Going from New York to a rural town outside of Hong Kong might involve a few cars, a ferry, an ocean freighter, then a small freight helecopter (large drone-like thing) to get you to the exact house, which the passenger would rarely care about. The cost would be something similar to what we'd consider an Amazon shipping expense, regardless of the number of legs, and time roughly scales with distance.

    The biggest concern of folks traveling this way would be time taken and menu selection. All transport units would have a somewhat extensive set of diagnostic tools, with an occasional scandal for any company suspected of skirting the rather heavy regulations put on those, or in any way skirting safety mores. The failure on a redundant pod mounting arm would actually make the news, as would anything even close to death of a passenger.

    This is my guess of something closer to the actual future, based on existing trends. Folks desire focus on the things they care about, and transportation isn't as sexy as it was. They want to get there cheap, and not care about the details. Our taste for safety should also go up over time, and the whole thing deserves a bit of a push towards automation and commoditization. .

    I certainly wouldn't be sad to see our current commercial car companies/insurance going away, in favor of industrial economy-scale vehicles built to better use every resource.

    Lots of stories you could make with that concept too - from Asimov Caves of Steel-style stories with murder sub-plots, to stories of how prisons would work in such a culture.

    Ryan Fenton

    • I'm waiting for self driving RVs where I can climb in one with a bunch of friends and family on a Friday morning, go to sleep watching tv and wake up Saturday morning half way across the country at Yosemite or Disney World.
    • by swb ( 14022 )

      So, personalized carbon-fiber shipping containers for people, in a small enough standardized size they can slot into different prime mover configurations?

      I think it sounds great, but I think you face the challenge where it makes sense to stack them densely like actual shipping containers but on long enough trips nobody wants to be sealed inside for the whole trip or lack some kind of window they can see out of.

      • by mikael ( 484 )

        There are what is known as bowling alley apartments (or shotgun apartments) because they are long and thin with only a couple of windows at either end. They are open plan and have the living room at one end, the kitchen in the middle and the bedroom at the other, on a mezzanine level above. Similar to this:

        https://i.pinimg.com/originals... [pinimg.com]

        • by swb ( 14022 )

          Right, but if you're packing these pod things onto any kind of space-sensitive carrying vehicle, you're going to need to pack them tight like actual shipping containers. I could probably live with no windows for a 24 hour flight or something, but say 2-3 days on a ship?

          And then there's the bathroom question.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Will people be allowed to travel that easily from the US to China, and if so would they even want to? When travel is that easy culture will quickly homogenize, and transportation of goods will presumably be just as easy and cheap, so the only real reason to go there is tourism. And when VR gets good, it looks a lot easier and cheaper than actually going there.

    • I suspect we'd be more ready for a VR-world where we can meet people instead of going there physically. Video conferences are getting so good that they're worth it for quick meetings as well as long ones. It's not a huge leap to think we could 'VR' that experience up a bit (although VR headgear needs to improve somewhat, it seems like that'll happen sooner than we'll figure out the bajillion issues we'd need to solve to have 1 flying car, let alone thousands of them).

      Are we ready for a VR 'meeting place'? P

      • by tomhath ( 637240 )

        Are we ready for a VR 'meeting place'? Probably not, at least not really, although at least we get to try them out without risking anyone's life.

        But a VR meeting could be even more dangerous.

        Imagine a politician setting up a virtual rally - you join and are surrounded by tens of thousands of enthusiastic supporters and listen to a perfectly delivered speech that's met with wild applause.

        But the reality (non-virtual) is that the politician is a weak, sickly person with few followers and many, many enemies.

        In other words, the Fake News we see coming out of most media outlets today would be orders of magnitude more powerful with VR and good animation

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      In other words, shipping containers with people inside.
      With such a system, it is likely that many people for which "pods" would be their only home. In fact we are already building housing out of shipping containers.

      Now, interestingly, your solution tends to be the opposite of the path we are following. Your idea is one about comfortable slow travel, which remind me of the magnificent Titanic, Orient Express and Hindenburg. Now, the idea is to pack as many people as possible and move them as fast as possible

    • Well, I'd be ok with that kind of travel. But, then again, I'm the kind of person who doesn't really care what their vehicle looks like as long as it's reliable, relatively safe in a crash, economical, and gets me from A to B without discomfort. I'm aware I must be in a minority, because I am totally mystified by why anyone would show any interest in a car commercial. And yet those commercials continue to exist, which, I assume, must mean that there are enough people who care about how a car looks and ho

  • by Tony Isaac ( 1301187 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @12:27AM (#55229503) Homepage

    We've been hearing for decades that flying cars--and AI--are just a few years away. Right.

    For flying cars, there's still one big problem that's not even close to a solution: Battery technology is nowhere near close to being able to store enough energy to make flying cars practical. A Tesla car battery weighs in at 1,200 lbs, and it can only power a car--on the ground--around 200 miles. It takes a lot more energy to keep a one ton drone aloft.

    And then there's the problem of safety. Air traffic is routed specifically for safety, to minimize the possibility of crashes into buildings or people. With flying cars, the whole point would be to fly among people and buildings. This cannot have a good ending.

  • My Prayer (Score:5, Funny)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @12:31AM (#55229517) Journal

    I really hope Apple makes the first flying cars. I've given it a lot of thought. The same people who bought Apple Watches will buy the flying cars. It'll be glorious. It could solve the housing shortage on the West Coast.

    • The only drawback with your plan is that you'll need to wait a little bit longer.
      Apple will probably only "invent" the flying car a decade after they hit production elsewhere.

  • yeah yeah "welcome to /." etc

    But seriously... The article talks about autonomous vehicles being a needed pre-requisite. Read the comments and there are at least half a dozen threads starting with variation of

    "but people suck at normal driving"

    turns out people suck at reading and just want to be the first to shout. I want to go back to the days where there was some intelligent conversation on here

  • No (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @12:34AM (#55229537)

    No the world isn't ready for flying cars, the energy use is too great. We need to reduce fossil fuel usage not increase it. And whilst short plane flights with batteries is possible, it's just not practical enough to become a significant market. VTOL with batteries is even less practical.

  • "Free of stuff"? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sgunhouse ( 1050564 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @12:48AM (#55229575)
    "The air is so free of stuff and is so unused compared to the ground, it has to happen in my opinion."

    It will no longer be unused and free of stuff once we have flying cars - and you definitely won't just be able to go in a straight line. They already have rules about where you can fly a drone. Imagine a few hundred flying cars in some small area. And of course, if you do have an accident, whose house do you hit and how fast are you going? It gets real ugly real fast ...
    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Indeed. This complete nonsense. Where is would be beneficial (if feasible with regards to engineering, cost, reliability, pollution, etc.), i.e. in and around large cities, the airspace is packed and the last thing you would want there is additional planes in the air.

    • "The air is so free of stuff and is so unused compared to the ground, it has to happen in my opinion." It will no longer be unused and free of stuff once we have flying cars - and you definitely won't just be able to go in a straight line. They already have rules about where you can fly a drone. Imagine a few hundred flying cars in some small area. And of course, if you do have an accident, whose house do you hit and how fast are you going? It gets real ugly real fast ...

      It's going to get real ugly real fast once Amazon and other like vendors start delivering damn near everything by drone.

      Besides, I don't trust autonomous solutions on the ground, so why exactly should I trust them in the air where they can kill/maim far more people at once?

  • Why does every post even remotely involving China somehow end up mentioning "Well in China they..." As if China is some monumental homogenous blob that devours all life. One that somehow involves no individual or companies whatsoever but is instead the subject of an Apple commercial about 1984 from 1984. In fact where are any of the companies mentioned here? Last I looked investors didn't actually invent new things, engineers did, working at actual companies. Companies with names, and products, and timeline
  • Smart guy, nice guy personally. But I wouldn't trust his engineering judgment, period. From which I conclude that it's safe to ignore his self-serving prognostications about the future, and probably safer to bet against them.
  • This is absolutely ridiculous. Do you, from even your own air travel, see how many equipment checks and processes there are to be done before an aircraft flies, and how often just the smallest electronics or airframe/engine problem grounds an aircraft?

    And you're hoping that Joe Schmoe's car, that he's stored in his driveway, driven rattling down the highway hitting who knows what, is going to be converted suddenly into a flying apparatus that meets any kind of necessary safety regulations?

    Keep on dre
  • Flying cars need even more energy than ground-based ones, particularly when in a traffic jam as you cannot turn off the engine.

    The skies would also quickly fill up causing traffic jams up there. So far any increase in capacity has only

    Those visions you see in presentation are just there to not scare away potential engineers, the only actual use for this is in the military.

  • Will they be made of gleaming alloy, and will they be as wide as two lanes? These questions need to be answered.

    • Will they be made of gleaming alloy, and will they be as wide as two lanes? These questions need to be answered.

      That idea will never fly. For one thing, they won't be able to cross one-lane bridges.

  • This is complete nonsense. A) There is not enough airspace b) there are no flying cars beyond stunts that are not ready for normal use c) most people are not pilots d) there are not enough airports e) energy-efficiency is very bad f) cost is very bad.

    Seriously, this moronic idea needs to die until we have anti-grav, no energy problems and working AI pilots.

  • by Maury Markowitz ( 452832 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @06:54AM (#55230361) Homepage

    > adding a third dimension to travel would make a lot of sense coming next ... you mean global climate change? You're saying a transport system that uses perhaps 5 to 10 times as much energy as existing technologies is what we need at this point?

    Sure, we solved the pilot problem. Call me when you figured out the problem about how to make VTOL use less energy than a wheel.

    Duh.

    • Sure, we solved the pilot problem. Call me when you figured out the problem about how to make VTOL use less energy than a wheel.

      You 'solve' it by making energy so cheap, plentiful, and available that it doesn't matter.

      Of course, then you have the problem of overcoming the push-back from the radical environmentalist types who would scream bloody Gaia-murder about any increase in civilization's energy generation/usage, no matter how safe, clean, and low-impact it might actually be.

      Another problem is political/ideological in nature, as many nations would never allow their populations access to such an empowering technology, like Best K

  • >> Is the World Ready For Flying Cars?
    That question is straight out of the 1960's
    Today, the question is :

    "Is the World Ready For Autonomous Electric Cars?"

  • Sorry, but people, as a group, are mouth-breathing, drooling, drunken morons of questionable parentage.

    Cars, as they are, are barely within their ability to control.

    Flying cars would just get lots and lots (and LOTS) of people killed.

  • From employers to education, when you look at the main reasons our roadways are congested, it says a lot about what we could do today to drastically improve the situation.

    How many employers could support employees working from home, but continue to hold on to an obsolete mentality of forcing people to waste countless hours commuting to a building and sit in a cube or office all day?

    How many schools could support virtual classrooms, but refuse to do so for similar reasons?

    Get on the roadways during a nationa

  • Seriously, we want to add a -third- dimension to the driving experience?! Come to Orlando FL, my home town, where when there's not a cop around, traffic laws are just mere suggestions. And the cops don't bother following the same laws. The thought of adding a Z-axis to the average driver's motion range just scares the absolute dog-crap out of me.

  • When they are, it will also be the Year of the Linux Desktop! Woo-hoo!!

  • As a child of the 60's, this has been the same promise since I was watching the Jetsons. Let's lets pull human stupidity out of the question and assume that self driving cars / air cars systems work effectively. And the litany of rules, regulations and codes for safe zones is written and accepted at the NTSB through local levels...
    THe problem is COST.
    Energy required for flight is orders of magnitude greater for flight. Add insurance... what will GEICO charge you for a "flying car" to cover potential pr
  • We can't even drive on the ground with lines and markers everywhere.

    I can't even imagine how terrible letting people fly their cars would be.

  • Flying autonomous cars will happen in numbers before autonomous cars. I also predict it will happen in China, developers of the inexpensive toy quadcopters. I believe Ehang is testing in Dubai.

  • Ok by flying cars I mean multi-rotor drones, not shit cars with folded wings from a 1950s newsreel buffed up in 4K video.

    I wanna take off and land right where I wanna go, not have to go drive a half hour to a takeoff area.

  • 1.) Energy... it takes a lot of energy to keep a car in the air. We already have flying cars, helicopters and planes. People don't use them because they're expensive.
    2.) Maintenance... have you seen how people maintain the majority of cars on the road? How many broken down cars do you drive by each day on your commute? Imagine a non-maintained flying car crashing into a houseful of kids. Think of the children!
    3.) Traffic control... airplanes and helicopters are easy to guide now because there aren't that
  • Self driving cars need to prove themselves on the ground first. I've heard that the AI needed for flying is simpler than that needed for ground based driving, but more is at stake, so I still think ground based AI is a necessary proving ground.

    It takes more energy to fly than to drive. Let's get a bit farther down the path of solving our energy issues before switching to a mode of transportation that gets 5 mpg (a 747 gets about 5 mpg, maybe not a fair comparison).

    It's inevitable that a car will fail mid-

  • That was easy to answer.

It is much easier to suggest solutions when you know nothing about the problem.

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