The sci-fi film Blade Runner envisioned 2019 as being full of flying cars. What progress has been made? Here are the prototypes for urban air mobility.
“I have seen things that you humans could not imagine.” Who hasn’t heard this phrase at least once in their life? It is one of the most famous quotes from the monologue delivered by replicant Roy Batty in the 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott and inspired by Philip K. Dick’s novel The Android Hunter. The futuristic scenario told predicted that the skies of Los Angeles in 2019 would have flying cars. 2019 now remains a memory and, if you raise your eyes to the sky, there is not even a shadow of flying cars. Almost. Mobility is changing between flying cars and air taxis. But what are the prototypes and projects currently existing and which automotive brands are involved?
FLYING CARS: HENRY FORD’S PROPHECY
“Mark these words: cars and airplanes will combine. You can smile at it, but it will happen, ”Henry Ford said in 1940. In fact, progress has been made. We must be careful though, because sometimes the term “flying cars” can be improper to define vehicles that behave more like helicopters, capable of landing and taking off vertically. However, there are also Vtol (English acronym for Vertical take-off and landing, vertical take-off and landing) which are real cars capable of both ‘flying’ and moving on the road. The flying cars featured in the film are called spinners and are used by the police to monitor the population and patrol the city. The spinners can be driven like a traditional vehicle or take off vertically like a Vtol aircraft thanks to three different thrusters, namely a jet engine, an internal combustion engine and antigravity. To date, what you see is the usual traffic of cars circulating on the road, but more and more companies are collaborating with each other to change the future of mobility.
HYUNDAI AND UBER
In the not too distant future there will be flying taxis. This is what has been seen for some years now at the Consumer electronics show in Las Vegas (Ces), so much so that at last year’s edition Uber already launched a new aircraft prototype after having carried out tests of flying taxi prototypes in Dallas, in Texas, Los Angeles and the rest of California. Korea’s Hyundai and California’s Uber Technologies teamed up to develop electric flying taxis by presenting the concept at this year’s Ces, which was held from 7 to 10 January. The vertical take-off and landing electric aircraft, called S-A1 (or Urban Air Mobility Vehicle), is equipped with four rotors capable of carrying up to five people, including the pilot, to reach a top speed of about 300 km / h and 600 meters of altitude. The flight range is 20 minutes or 100 km away; the vehicle is powered by a battery that recharges in 5-7 minutes. The commercial launch is scheduled for 2023 and Boeing and Bell will also participate in the Uber Air project.
PORSCHE AND BOEING
Porsche and Boeing signed a memorandum of understanding in 2019 to explore the premium market for urban air mobility and the extension of urban traffic into airspace. With this partnership, both companies will take advantage of their strengths and market insights to study the future of private and premium-end urban air mobility vehicles of compact vertical take-off and landing vehicles powered by an electric propulsion system. (eVtol). A 2018 study by Porsche Consulting predicts that the urban air mobility market will pick up speed after 2025. The study also indicates that urban air mobility solutions will transport passengers faster and more efficiently than current conventional means of land transport. at a lower cost and with greater flexibility. In addition to the vertical take-off electric vehicle over nine meters long and eight and a half wide with a flight range of 50 kilometers, the Seattle giant has successfully completed the first outdoor flight tests of the cargo air vehicle, also powered by an electric propulsion system capable of transporting up to 227 kilograms of goods. Several companies are working on this type of product, such as the startup Volocopter.
FLYING CAR PROTOTYPES: VOLOCOPTER AND MERCEDES-BENZ DESIGN
The first Volocopter prototype was a small egg-shaped helicopter presented by the German startup of the same name in 2016. It was an air taxi capable of carrying only one passenger at a time, which managed the on-board commands and a joystick-like command that allowed remote control of operations such as take-off and landing. In September 2017 it made its first demonstration flight in Dubai in autonomous mode in an urban area. The new prototype, which returned to the scene in the fall with a public flight over the Marina Bay reservoir in Singapore, could be one of the most innovative aerial vehicles of the near future with 18 electric rotors, 2 seats on board, autonomous driving technology and , for now, about thirty kilometers of autonomy. To invest in this project Daimler and Geely, through Mercedes-Benz Design, as they hope for better mobility in the future thanks to this new technology that could decongest the streets of the most chaotic cities.
FLYING CARS, THE AIRBUS CONSORTIUM
The European consortium has long since created Voom, a small helicopter booking platform for small ‘low cost’ urban air travel. Travelers can book in seconds and reach their destination in minutes. Voom flights can be booked at any time from one hour to 90 days in advance. Once the flight is booked, travelers simply have to check-in at the designated heliport 15 minutes before boarding time. The Voom service is currently available in two of the most congested urban areas in the world: Mexico City and, in Brazil, São Paulo.
The Pop.Up vehicle, also born from an idea of Airbus, combines the flexibility of a small two-seater land vehicle with the freedom and speed of a Vtol, creating a bridge between the automotive and aerospace sectors. At the heart of the concept is a capsule, designed to accommodate passengers. This high-tech carbon fiber monocoque cocoon measures 2.6 meters long, 1.4 meters high and 1.5 meters wide. The capsule transforms into a city car simply by connecting to the ground module, which features a carbon fiber frame and is battery powered. For megacity journeys with heavy traffic, the capsule disconnects from the ground module and is carried by a 5 by 4.4 meter air module driven by eight counter-rotating rotors. In this configuration, Pop.Up becomes an urban autopilot aerial vehicle, taking advantage of the third dimension to switch from A to B efficiently avoiding ground traffic congestion. Once passengers reach their destination, the air and ground modules with the capsule autonomously return to dedicated charging stations to await their next customers. In 2018 Audi, after presenting the prototype and announcing the agreement with Airbus, had successfully completed the first flight of a small-scale model of Pop.Up, but last year it seems to have backed down. In fact, the German company has stopped working on the concept to outline a new air mobility strategy.
THE ASTON MARTIN CONCEPT
Road and sky intersect more and more not only in transport, but also in design, even if we are still a long way from the idea of a flying machine. Aston Martin Lagonda and Airbus Corporate Helicopters have created the ACH130 Aston Martin Edition, a special edition of the ACH130 helicopter for private use, featuring a range of four interior and exterior designs generated by Aston Martin. But, in 2018, Aston Martin also unveiled the Volante Vision Concept, a vertical take-off and landing aircraft developed in collaboration with Cranfield Aerospace Solutions, Cranfield University and Rolls-Royce. With room for three passengers, the concept is a near-future study that envisions a hybrid electric flying vehicle for urban and intercity air travel, providing fast, efficient and congestion-free travel by leveraging the latest advances in aerospace, electrification and autonomous technologies.