Artificial Intelligence

The flying car: From science fiction to science fact

13th July 2018
Alex Lynn

Whether it’s a sleek hover car from Star Wars or the battered old Ford Anglia from Harry Potter, we’ve all grown up with the concept of flying cars remaining trapped inside their fictional bubble. However, the flying car might finally be dragging itself out of its Sci-Fi/Fantasy home, and into the real world.

The BlackFly, a flying car from Opener, has been unveiled in Canada. The BlackFly has, spread across its two wings, eight propulsion systems, which allow the car to travel up to 25 miles at 62mph; it even lands safely. According to Opener, the BlackFly functions best when it is launching from and landing on grassy surfaces. The BlackFly is currently only able to carry one person in the cockpit and can be flown both manually and autonomously. 

Marcus Leng, Chief Executive of Opener, explained: “You have total command of three dimensional space. When you press the thumb stick to climb, you have absolute full control. When you stop in the middle of the air and go off the joystick, the aircraft freezes. And when I say freezes… it literally freezes in the air.”

Opener are hoping that users will only have to take part in a training programme to be able to drive the BlackFly. They stated: “Even though not required by Federal Aviation Administration regulations, BlackFly operators will be required to successfully complete the FAA Private Pilot written examination and also complete company mandated vehicle familiarisation and operator training.” All this brings into question exactly who will decide how to licence people to fly, and if flying cars become more and more common, will they require a flying equivalent of a driving test? 

Opener is not the only company currently embroiled in the race to build the first viable flying car, companies like Uber and Kitty Hawke are also getting involved, with the latter also already testing personal aircraft. 

Despite being a ‘flying car’, the BlackFly doesn’t look much like a car, and having no wheels, it cannot be driven on roads. If anything, the BlackFly looks and functions more like a drone that is capable of ferrying a person around, but we’ve not been waiting decades for a human ferrying drone, and at its heart the BlackFly is what has inspired it, a flying car. 

Previously, the main obstacle facing the creation of a flying car was the insufficient technology, but now that it seems we are precariously close to having the tech, other obstacles are starting to come into play instead. For example, on the ground we have roads, what would we have in the air? It was all well and good when Doc Brown said ‘Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads!’ but the reality is that if personal air travel became common, there would have to be some kind of regulation or identified ‘air roads’ or it would become too dangerous.

Willie Turner, Head of Operations at The Hiller Aviation Museum in Northern California, commented: “Will they crash? Probably, but cars crash every day.” This is in some respects, an excellent point; however, when a car crashes, it doesn’t have to plummet back to earth, so it seems fair that the safety precautions around a flying car would be more stringent than normal cars.

All in all with the successful test flights of the BlackFly, it seems that flying cars are fast moving from science fiction into science fact, but whether or not it will ever be practical enough to take over form our traditional cars is another matter.

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