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Where's My Flying Car?

We are now past the 'future' of many science fiction films, where's the hover cars?

22Sep

The history of hover vehicles is long and undistinguished, with the quest to develop a flying automobile having largely resulted in failure, embarrassment, and even death. But has the quest proved entirely fruitless, or is there an inventor with a design for a hover car waiting around the corner?

Multiple science fiction films have portrayed hover cars, or flying cars, as the future. From Blade Runner to The Fifth Element, writers and directors have seen them as the future of transport. Reality, however, has been reluctant to keep pace with fiction. It’s now 2015, and the future that many of these films were set in has been and gone, but everyone’s cars are still firmly on the ground.

Some companies are, however, coming close. California-based engineering corporation AeroFex, for one, is making progress with their hoverbike prototype. The firm has already accepted pre-orders for the bike, which is set for release in 2017, at a fairly reasonable $85,000 - with a $5,000 refundable deposit to be paid upfront. The Aero-X is a two person-vehicle which uses fans to force a cushion of air under it and carry it 3m above the ground, reaching speeds of up to 72 km/h. The first test flight is expected to take place in 2016.

Volkswagen’s concept hover car is another that seems to have legs. Back in 2011, Volkswagen embarked on what it called the ‘People's Car Project’ in China, which encouraged Internet users in that country to submit ideas online for a ‘Volkswagen model of the future’. Among the 119,000 ideas submitted was a concept for a doughnut-shaped, environmentally-friendly, two-seater city car which hovers just above the ground. While still only a concept, the technology appears feasible. The car uses existing magnetic levitation (maglev) trains and would rely on an electromagnetic track embedded in the road to enable its ability to hover - being propelled forwards by a thruster in the back. According to CNET, researchers at Stanford have already explored embedding an electrical grid into highways in the U.S. that could also be used to guide and charge autonomous vehicles.

The Hendo Hoverboard is probably the furthest along the line. American startup Arx Pax raised $510,590 on crowdfunding website Kickstarter in December of last year for its Hendo hoverboard, and it promised to ship the first in October to the 11 backers who pledged $10,000 a piece to get their hands on one of the first. According to the project’s Kickstarter page, ‘the magic behind the hoverboard lies in its four disc-shaped hover engines. These create a special magnetic field which literally pushes against itself, generating the lift which levitates our board off the ground.’ While it may sound great, Hendo’s creation requires conductive surfaces for it to work so it’s unlikely that you will be seeing them out much in public, at least until copper paths become more mainstream.

These projects all suggest that the idea of flying transportation, while unlikely to be readily available in time for 2019 when Blade Runner was set, they could well become the preferred method of transportation within our lifetime. And with their energy usage far better than non-flying cars, investment in their development may be more than just frivolous novelty, but a necessity.

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