Flying Cars in Smart Cities …. cont

electric flying car in smart cities

What is the role of flying cars in smart cities of the future?

How are flying cars in smart cities a significant component of urban air mobility?

How do flying cars fit within an overriding transport mobility strategy in smart cities?

In our last blog we talked about the recent launch of two new flying cars. Firstly, the Generation 5 Xpeng X2 electric flying car. And secondly, the Wisk Aero Generation 6 autonomous eVTOL.

Why do we need flying cars?

You might say that the biggest drawcard for the emerging technology of flying cars is that they look super cool!

But flying cars have a significant role to play in the future of smart cities – for sustainable transport in smart cities.

Benefits of Flying Cars

There are numerous advantages of flying cars  (let’s refer to them interchangeably as VTOLs). Benefits to both environmental impact and also delivering better customer/ passenger experience. And because flying cars can avoid traffic on our roads to take a much more direct route from one location to another, they have huge positive environmental benefits.

So we believe that flying cars have a significant role to play in the future of sustainable mobility. And this has been backed by scientific research.

Benefits that flying cars deliver include:

Flying cars in smart cities will be common in the future
  • Faster journey times on land
  • Increased reliability of travel times
  • Reduce traffic congestion on roads & emissions from ground transport
  • Frees up roads for pedestrians and bicycle lanes
  • Lower power consumption, so better for our environment
  • Electric VOTLs have the added advantage of even lesser carbon emissions
  • Improve emergency services by avoiding road congestion. Eg. Fire engines, police, ambulances
  • Reduces need for and cost of building and maintaining traditional road infrastructure

The environmental appeal of eVTOLs is hard to ignore. An eVTOL’s battery is powered by renewable energy, so its operation is carbon-neutral. Even if the grid is supplied by burning fossil fuels, eVTOLs would still generate less emissions than a traditional helicopter.


Disadvantages of Flying Cars

But on the flipside, there are clearly disadvantages to consider for the adoption of flying cars.

  • While VTOLs consume less power once up in the air, vertical take off and climb use a lot of energy
  • Very short trips in flying cars may not result in energy efficiency or emissions reduction
  • Research shows that for trips less than 35 km, it’s more efficient to drive a car the same distance.
  • Flying cars cannot carry many passengers like public transport can (eg. Buses, trains, ferries)
  • Costly to build and maintain, especially in nascent stages of technology development
  • Need for take-off and landing infrastructure. It’s pretty exciting to imagine that flying cars will be able to take off and land from anywhere, but in reality they are going to need launch/ landing stations. This means that this type of infrastructure will need to be built, and also meet safety standards. This construction will also offset the positive environmental impact that VTOLs have
  • And what about the noise? So if VOTLs are anything like fuel helicopters taking off and landing, that’s pretty damn loud at around 100 db when they are flying. If that’s the case, then cities will need to consider the equivalent of flight path zones for flying cars. Is it fair or appropriate to have flying cars being that noisy flying over residential areas. But on the other side if that VTOLs are all electric, then the noise factor is significantly reduced.

History of Flying Cars

Did you know that the first attempt at a flying car was as early as 1917?

Glenn Curtiss’ Autoplane in 1917

Glenn Curtiss, who is often referred to as the “father of the flying car” (is that a little bit like “the Godfather??” (😆 😆 😆) built an aluminium Autoplane. It had three wings over 12 metres, and the motor drove a 4 bladed propeller at the back of the car. The Autoplane was able to get a few brief little hops, but unfortunately never really flew off the ground.

Even Henry Ford (yes, that same innovative disruptor) tried to build a flying car back in 1926.
It was called the “Ford Fliver” – pretty much a small plan intended for the average man. Unfortunately the Fliver was not successful because it crashed on a test flight killing the pilot. Not one to give up, Ford built the “Stout Skycar” in the early 1930s. But due to timing of the Great Depression, flying cars were pushed far down the list as a priority. 

Beyond that, many others built prototypes since then, but none succeeded. They all were propelled from the rear, which may have explained why they didn’t work.

Recent attempts at flying cars have adopted the Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) technology. So more like helicopters, relying on rotating propellors to lift the flying car off the ground. And these have been far more successful.

The Godfather of Flying Cars

Paul Moller, a Canadian born engineer, was the first person to pioneer a car as a VTOL. Much like the cartoon flying car in the Jetsons cartoon series from the early 1960s.

Paul Moller in his flying Skycar

Since then a number of large companies have spent billions of dollars to try to be the first to conquer urban airspace with a sustainable mobility solution in the form of an electric VTOL (e-VTOL).

These companies include names like Boeing’s Wisk Aero, Archer Aviation, Volocopter, Airbus, Vertical Airspace, eHang, Joby Aviation, Lilium and even Uber just to name a few of the bigger players. Chasing a whopping potential market size of US$1.5 trillion by 2040 according to Morgan Stanley reseach, there are reportedly more than 200 chasing this market for flying cars! 

Wisk Aero autonomous Generation 6 VTOL

But with so many billions of dollars on the table, it might make more sense for these companies to collaborate to be the first to get to the finish line.  And this is what has happened. After 10 years at it, Larry Page’s (Google/Alphabet founder) air taxi startup – Kitty Hawk- just combined with Boeing to continue development jointly with as Wisk Aero.

How do electric flying cars (eVTOLs)  charge?

eVTOLs are really just another form of electric vehicle. Charging of eVTOLs is a challenge that is taking a lot of energy so to speak.  There are concerns about how our city grids will cope with all the electricity needed to charge electric vehicles. So adding electric flying cars to the mix will require more power and time to charge.

Skycharge charging an eVTOL
Charging a flying car in smart cities

Stations are being developed for eVTOL charging, but there are concerns about how much power they need to draw.

Currently eVTOLs use batteries to power them. But to stay in the air for long enough periods of time to make them sustainable, batteries for flying cars need to have a very high energy density. This is largely because eVTOLs need very high power during Ctake-off and landing – as rising up directly vertically against gravity requires a lot of power.

Lithium-ion batteries will give an eVTOL enough power for a 50 mile trip. It’s quick to recharge lithium-ion batteries within five to ten minutes, and they can undergo more than 2,000 fast charges.

But just like with electric vehicles, we need to consider load management at eVTOL charging stations.

Lillium and ABB charging station for eVTOLs design concept
Lillium and ABB electric charging station for VTOLs concept design

How and where do flying cars in smart cities park and take off?

Taking off and landing VTOLs requires a dedicated space. So flying car suppliers are considering rooftops for dedicated launch/landing/ charging stations. In cities, it’s so important to optimise existing building infrastructure for eVTOLs to most efficiently take off and land.

Easy solutions for eVTOL launch pads and landing stations are the parking areas on the flat roofs of city buildings. Joby Aviation and REEF Parking, have paired up to create parking spaces on the rooftops of city buildings which will be reserved for flying cars.

Parking lots for flying cars in Japan

Park24, Japan’s largest parking lot operator, will develop a take-off and landing base in one of it’s parking lots in Kansai. This will be as part of the World Expo in 2025. They will be the first parking operator in Japan to enter the flying car industry. Working with UK based Skysports, who has started a similar business in Europe, Park24 will use this as a first test site before scaling throughout Japan.

How do you park flying cars once they land?

You would park flying cars the same way as regular cars, except that they can take off and fly.. They would have the same features as regular cars, with the ability to change or revisit your preferences.

What the role of parking bollards to guide flying cars in parking?

Flying cars will require guidance when parking and landing. Parking bollards provide solid security for flying cars parking areas. 

With the increasing popularity of flying cars, it’s no surprise that there are concerns about their safety. One challenge facing flying car technology is safely guiding them during both parking and landing. 

Like any parking station, we think there will be a role for parking bollards for parking flying cars as well!

For safety, parking direction guidance and security, parking bollards will help park VTOLs. 

By using parking bollards, we can help guide the flying cars within a flying car launch and parking station.

Are Flying Cars part of the future of sustainable urban mobility?

There are still a lot of issues to be discussed around the future and role of flying cars in smart cities.

On one hand, companies like Uber plan to have their first commercial flights Uber are aiming for the first commercial flights of electric flying cars in the imminent future. However, will the technology work reliably? Will it be scalable? Will it be useful and not just a novelty. And most importantly, will it have a positive impact on the environment for sustainable urban air mobility?

Current eVTOLs are more efficient and have the best environmental impact for mid to longer range trips. Around 50 kms distance seems to be the ideal trip length with today’s innovative technology and battery life and distance. This trip length means that the cruising works very efficiently and it offsets the higher energy load needed for take off and landing.

Will VTOLs, and particularly eVTOLs, be an efficient and effective urban air mobility solution in our smart cities?

It’s clear that VTOLs will definitely feature as part of a sustainable urban transport mobility, probably for smaller passenger numbers. But flying cars certainly have a significant role to play as part of sustainable transport mobility solutions in our cities.

And alongside this we need to ensure that they use sustainable and renewable energy.