“Where is my flying car?” may soon no longer be a joke


Some of you may remember the animated TV show The Jetsons about a family that lived in the future that had all manner of anticipated technological advances. One of them was the flying personal car and that particular item has become a punch line whenever people want to express disappointment that we do not have many of the amazing things that we thought had been promised to us in the dreams of science fiction writers.

No longer. It turns out that a company in China called Ehang is testing a large drone that can carry a single passenger. They are not the only company to be developing such things but seem to be the leader.

Here is a video they have released of a test flight.

What worries me are the exposed rotors that look like they could easily slice through any living thing. I don’t know why the rotors are not surrounded by coaxial cylindrical casings that would still be able to provide thrust along the axis directions. There may be technical reasons that I am not aware of.

Comments

  1. fentex says

    I don’t know why the rotors are not surrounded by coaxial cylindrical casings

    I assume, on a prototype, simplicity and weight saving.

    Flying cars are an essentially stupid idea for the intrusion and danger they impose on other people.

  2. felicis says

    Well – it’s kind of cool, but it is basically a helicopter. Any rotor aircraft is going to be dangerous – in this case, I would expect you to need a private pilot license to fly it in the US – and in some of the weather conditions shown, an instrument rating as well.

    Evidently these are electric – so I wonder what range and payload are.

  3. says

    @fentex, No. 1: I agree, weight is most likely the issue.

    @felicis, No. 2: Despite all the obsessive head ducking, the dangers of rotary-wing air craft are quite different from the horizontal propeller systems used on drones, especially when, as in this case, the propellers are at ground level.

    Jeff

  4. Holms says

    I don’t know if I’d call this a ‘flying car’ either, remarkable as it is. This is more an iteration of the single seater helicopter, something that has been around since the 50s certainly, and possibly the 40s.

  5. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    A tunnel around a rotor improves its efficiency, because it prevents air escaping around the tips of the blades. Therefore extra weight shouldn’t be an issue. Maybe production cost is.

  6. jrkrideau says

    @ 6 Lassi Hippeläinen

    If these are prototypes, do you think that they rush the video into print and just have not gotten around to fitting them? They have a proof-of-concept and may be looking for more financing.

    They do not seem to be something I’d want to see flying in the centre of Montreal or even over my backyard, but I can see some practical uses for them particularly in some highly isolated areas.

    Now if we can fit pontoons. 🙂

  7. johnson catman says

    From a report about a self-flying taxi service linked in the story from Mano above:

    He adds that the drones, which he refers to as Autonomous Aerial Vehicles (AAV), are an easy-to-use innovation that can transport up to 100 kilograms — enough for one person and a suitcase — on a pre-programmed route through the city.

    That rules me out right off the bat, with no luggage even.

  8. says

    People have a hard enough time driving around on a 2D surface that has edge boundaries in place. I don’t want to think about them moving through 3D space w/o boundaries. Autonomous piloting might solve that problem but there is still the issue of energy efficiency. It takes a lot less energy to roll something around on a surface than to keep it in the air.

    Initially, it seems like it would be very quick and efficient to get from place to place with a flying car but that’s only true if there are very few of them about. Imagine rush hour with everyone coming at you from every direction. I think I would prefer the people mover tubes seen on the opening of Futurama.

  9. says

    Marcus, why not? Imagine a terrorist commanding the flying whatsit to go over the White House, instead it recognises your face and takes you straight to jail. And yeah, I know, hacking. But that can happen to any remotely controlled flying object, in theory.

  10. EigenSprocketUK says

    Noticed that in the video on their website they didn’t put the weight of a human aboard for their trip (200m and back). It was controlled manually via a 5G cellular connection, which is pretty neat. I suppose the military folk won’t be too impressed by a 500k UAV, though they’d probably like the idea of being able to afford their own cellular network with 100% coverage and 50ms latency — because it doesn’t fly if the cellular network isn’t 100%.
    Sounds unsafe? No, the EHang people claim that safety is assured. Here’s a quote from the FAQ of one of their toy drones:

    What if I accidentally touch the “Lock” button while the Ghostdrone is flying?
    If you hit the “Lock” button accidentally while the drone is in the air, a warning window will pop up to ask if you are sure you want to lock the drone.
    If you yes the Ghostdrone will stop the motors and fall.

    When you put it like that, why wouldn’t you yes?

  11. rjw1 says

    fentex,

    Agreed, another fantasy. Some drivers are dangerous in two dimensions allowing them three would be crazy.

  12. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    Think positive: the third dimension will decrease their changes of hitting anything they are aiming at.

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