Isaac Asimov’s flying cars may not be that far away from reality

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on January 09, 2020 Published on January 09, 2020

Hyundai and Uber showcased their flying car concepts at the mega tech show CES 2020 in Las Vegas on Monday

The late science fiction author Isaac Asimov would probably smile if he were to visit the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, CES 2020. Hyundai and Uber revealed their flying car concepts at the show on Monday, injecting a lot of excitement into the event. In 1964, Asimov had predicted flying cars, which featured in his stories, would be a reality within 50 years, by 2014. We’re not quite there, but the day may not be that far away either.


Hyundai’s decision to partner with Uber came as no surprise as both firms have been hinting at their plans for ‘flying cars’ and air taxis for quite some time.


“We’re looking at the dawn of a completely new era that opens the skies above our cities,” Jaiwon Shin, head of Hyundai’s Urban Air Mobility division, said at the announcement, as quoted by the New York Times. “We will be able to fly on-demand — just imagine that.”


The South Korean auto giant showcased a model of the flying car at CES on Monday. Hyundai showcased a small-scale virtual reality experience alongside a non-functioning model on display.


The aircraft will be completely electric and will function at the speed of 180 mph for trips as far as 60 miles. Landing and take-off for the four-passenger air-taxi would be vertical. The vehicle will have an egg-shaped cabin around which two tilt-rotors on the tail and 10 other rotors will be distributed to help it metamorphose into a lift cruise and back for landing. The vehicle will be able to fly as high as 2000 feet according to reports.


Air taxi partners

Uber had already let its future ambitions about air taxis known way back in 2016 in its white paper about the Úber Elevate’ project. While Hyundai will on manufacturing the flying taxis, Uber will provide an aerial network connecting these taxis to ground level vehicles. The partnership further fuels Uber Elevate’s ambitions to build an aerial ride-sharing network by mid-2020s, an idea that seems far-fetched today.


Neither Hyundai nor Uber seem too worried about the competition as it has released this SA-1 design concept for the air taxis public following the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s open design process.


If flying cars weren’t enough, Hyundai also aims to add automation capabilities to the car in the future. Self-driven flying taxis for the win!


Yet to take off

While CES 2020 may make him smile, Asimov would probably be disappointed that we still do not have flying cars today. In a famous 1964 essay in the New York Times, in which he imagined how the world would look in 2014, the author had predicted: “Jets of compressed air will also lift land vehicles off the highways, which, among other things, will minimize paving problems. Smooth earth or level lawns will do as well as pavements. Bridges will also be of less importance, since cars will be capable of crossing water on their jets, though local ordinances will discourage the practice.”


So, how long will all this take to become a reality? A report published by Morgan Stanley a while back raised our hopes with the promise of a $1.5-trillion flying-car market by 2040. Boeing, Airbus, Toyota and Porsche have already been at it for years. This recent reveal has simply upped the ante with a stronger concept in place for companies to build on in terms of making flying cars a reality.


From technical hurdles, sustainability to commercials, the companies will have to face multiple challenges in making the launch a success. Uber is planning to host demonstrations of its aerial taxi network by 2023. Thinking way ahead, it has already signed an agreement with NASA to begin working on ideas in terms of infrastructure and the technological capabilities required to build a completely crew-less aerial network.

Published on January 09, 2020
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