Can You Imagine Flying Cars?

Nov 14, 2017 By James, Young Editor
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Can you imagine getting to your school or workplace in flying cars like the Jetsons!

Recently, Uber announced that they have teamed up with NASA on plans to deploy flying taxis by 2020! In addition, they have also announced that Los Angeles is going to be added to the list of places where the taxi service will be introduced - other places being Dallas and Dubai.

In another move, Geely, the parent company of car-maker Volvo, has acquired a flying-car startup called Terrafugia. And Airbus, a European maker of planes, will be testing its first prototype of a flying car by the end of this year. 

What makes these “flying cars” different from the current airplanes? The answer is a specialized technology known as VTOL. Read on to learn more.

What is VTOL?

VTOL stands for vertical take-off and landing. This technology allows aircraft to fly up vertically, hover, and land vertically, whereas many current airplanes have to take off or land from an angle pointing up or down.

There are two different types of VTOL aircraft. The first one is rotorcraft, or rotary wing aircraft. These aircraft lift themselves off the ground and move around in the air using spinning blades like a helicopter. The other type is powered-lift aircraft. These aircraft use the VTOL technology to vertically lift off and land on the ground, but in flight, their engines and wings are used to push them forward similar to how an airplane moves in midair.

VTOL is not a completely new idea. In fact, Leonardo da Vinci had created a design of a machine that can fly up and down using the vertical take-off landing technology. Over time, this technology has been improved and put to use in helicopters and drones. 

Benefits and Challenges

VTOL may bring several benefits to air transportation despite its current complexity. Ideally, this technology will allow aircraft to be more flexible, as they now can land anywhere and do not have to land at an airport.

Also, the technology would be more efficient, as landing and taking off vertically does not use as much energy as other aircraft to move through the air. In addition, VTOL might be safer than airplanes, since they avoid the accidents that many planes encounter in take-offs and landings.    

Flying cars do have their challenges. It will require the construction of 'vertiports' -- airports designed for small VTOL aircrafts. Also with many flying cars navigating the airspace, there are concerns about noise pollution and traffic control. Uber is partnering with NASA to work on issues related to air traffic control. 

However, as several companies compete to make flying cars a reality, VTOL is certainly going to be a part of our future. In fact, according to Uber’s tagline for the flying cars, it’s “closer than you think.”

Source: The Verge, Wired, Space.com, Reuters