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Why we don’t have flying cars yet?

Electrification of the aircraft


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Abdul Rawoof Khan

3 years ago | 6 min read

It was a usual Monday morning. I was going to college in a cab. My college starts at 9 and it was already 8:53 am. I was stuck in traffic. I don’t like going late to class, upon that it was the first day of the week. Just then, the Google aunty said,

“You’ll reach your destination by 9:13. You’re on the fastest route despite usual traffic.”

I smiled at her naivety and tried to relax. Through the windshield, I saw the infinite row of cars that stood in front of me. For a moment, I thought what if my cab would transform into a drone-like structure and lift off vertically and then fly forward over the traffic.

Then I realized that we’ve been able to build smartphones, drones, robots, rockets, space stations and even hyperloops. What surprised me was, the fact that we haven’t made cars that can fly, even though the concept of flying cars was more imaginable by our ancestors than smartphones.

Why don’t we have flying cars when the market for this industry is so huge? According to a Morgan Stanley research, the market of urban air mobility is expected to reach $1.5 Trillion by 2040. So why there’s such a delay and so much wait?

Will we ever be able to push a button and zoom over traffic with our car/plane hybrid?

So let’s look into 5 reasons why we don’t have flying cars yet.

1. Aerodynamic or Strong?

If you’re told to build a car, you’d make a strong durable car that’s robust and heavy enough to face the harsh terrains of the land but if you are told to make a plane, you’d never it light and aerodynamic, so as to be safe in the air. So the problem was to find the line in the middle. This is an interesting problem, but not solvable because if you’d increase the safety, you’d have to increase the weight too.

If you’d somehow find the middle line and make a vehicle, it would be an inferior car and also an inferior plane. You’d be far off if you’d buy a plane and a car separately.

The solution to this would be, materials that are strong and durable but also light in weight. Due to the innovations in hardware, software, telecommunication and infrastructure, we’ve come closer to proto commerciality of urban air mobility.

Some of these innovations are carbon fibre composites, higher energy density batteries, which improve the power to weight ratio. Smaller, lighter electric motors, more powerful micro motors or DEP ( Distributed Electronic Propulsion ) are also some innovations that have paved the path to the commerciality of urban air mobility.

2. Air crash

According to the Dutch aviation consultancy To70, there were 86 plane accidents in 2019. This fact occurred, despite the fact that all their pilots were experienced professional pilots, supported by the Air Control stations.

Now, just imagine what would happen if many not-so-professional pilots begin to fly with very little Air Control support. There could be many types of accidents, which can happen due to :

  • Crashes with other vehicles mid air
  • Crashes with trees/buildings
  • Unfavourable weather conditions
  • Machine malfunction
  • Human error

According to Federal Aviation Administration, more than 80% of all general aviation accidents are attributed to human error.

  • So to get rid of the accidents that happen due to human error, we must assign the job of the pilot to AI. A self flying hybrid car. The development of self driving cars itself is still in the infant phase, so we can assume that self flying hybrid cars would take a long time to become a reality.

3. Electrification of the aircraft

One of the companies that are working hard day and night to make urban air mobility a reality, is Uber. Engineers at Uber believe that electric is the way to go, because electric propulsion is simpler, more reliable and more precisely controllable than combustion engines.

Another reason for electrification would be the climate crisis. We already have aircrafts that are polluting our atmosphere and we don’t want more of them.

The next hurdle that comes in the way is probably the least anticipated one. To hint you about it, I’d like you to remember the last time a drone flew near you. Was it just too windy under it? What made you realise that a drone is near you? Yes you guessed it right!

4. The Noise

If we go according to Uber Air, what they want is a huge fleet of air taxis in our cities. Well, if we consider the noise made by so many air taxis, along with the strong winds under them, it wouldn’t be a good choice to have them.

This may not be the reason why we haven’t made flying cars yet, but this is a major hurdle to consider before we make moves towards our goal.

Nevertheless, let’s assume that all these problems have been solved by the smart men and women on this goal. The noise, the weight and the safety. Even then we’d have a hurdle in the path, which is the toughest of all problems.

5. The Price

Many technologies have come to the final stage of development but couldn’t get popular among the masses just because of their price.

We need to keep in mind that these hybrid cars are being made to be used by us, not to just boast about the fact that the human race has made flying cars.

To remind you, these aircraft would be made of carbon fibres, high-density batteries and other advanced technologies, which would make our aircraft to cross the lines of affordability, thus resulting in failure.

The price must be cheap enough to attract the masses, for it to be effective over the traffic issues. Though these challenges exist, a growing demand could manifest such hybrid cars by the advancements of manufacturing techniques, but not in the near future.

Personal Touch

I personally feel we don’t need flying cars yet. There are many other methods that can be used to solve the problems of traffic. Some could be, using bikes ( preferably electric ), so that commuter to space ratio improves. Other than that hyperloop, bullet trains, etc could be preferably better options.

These would be better because there are many cons to flying cars.

The con that might seem small but is significant enough, would be that we’d need air traffic police to monitor the traffic in the air. Even if we had the police, how would they stop a car mid-air? Maybe they’d have to wait until the culprit’s car ran out of fuel.

The companies that are making these cars argue that, if we solve all these challenges, we’d reap a very sweet fruit, that is, ‘Travel- without harming the environment’.

It is estimated that a flying car would be 35% more energy efficient than a gas powered car for a trip of 100km. It still can’t be as efficient as an electric car on land.

Although we’d be eliminating the demand for fossil fuels for cars, we’d be increasing the demand for electricity. Electricity production is still mostly accomplished by burning fossil fuels.

Mining, that is required to extract raw materials for batteries of our flying cars, would also be a damage to the environment.

Maybe flying cars will never reach the common commuter, but there’s no harm in exploring the technologies.

These explorations could help somewhere else, like in drone deliveries or the aviation industry.

So let’s sit back and imagine about the irresistible fantasy of flying cars, because

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”
This article was originally published on medium.

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