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The Future of Land and Air Transport (Part 1)

Autonomous, Driverless, Flying Cars

It’s no secret that technology is changing the way we live and work. And, as our world becomes increasingly connected, that change is happening at an ever-faster pace.

So, what does the future hold for land and air transport? We can’t predict the future with 100% accuracy, of course. But…

Based on the latest developments in technology, there are a few things we can say with pretty high confidence…

We are on the cusp of major changes in the way we get around, and the transportation options of tomorrow are going to be very different from what we have today.

The original Blade Runner film took place in an imagined Los Angeles of 2019, a futuristic city where acid rain fell from skies crowded with “skimmers”: flying cars that zipped along aerial highways.

Since the film’s 1982 debut, technology has advanced in ways that Hollywood might never have predicted – selfie sticks, murder drones, hashtag politics – yet hovercraft taxis still seem a far-off fantasy, reserved for science-fiction novels and theme park rides.[1]

With advances in battery technology, aerospace design, engineering, and luxury features, autonomous, flying cars are only going to become more viable as time goes on.

This technology is still in its early stages, but it has the potential to completely revolutionize the way we get around.

They could be used for everything from personal transport to public transport, and could even be used for deliveries. Flying and driverless cars are still in development, but several companies are working on them.

From Blade Runners to Star Wars to The Jetsons, it would be a dream come true for many around the globe.

According to research, the global autonomous car market was valued at over 27 billion U.S. dollars in 2021. The market is expected to grow in the following years, reaching a size of nearly 62 billion U.S. dollars in 2026. [2]

 

What are autonomous, flying cars?

Autonomous cars are vehicles that can drive themselves, without the need for a human driver. They use a variety of sensors and cameras to navigate, and can even communicate with other autonomous vehicles to avoid accidents.

Most autonomous cars are still in the testing phase, but there are already a few companies that have released fully autonomous cars, like Tesla and Volvo.

Now combine that technology with aerospace. You have autonomous, flying cars…

 

How do autonomous, flying cars work?

Autonomous cars use a variety of sensors and cameras to navigate. These include LiDAR (light detection and ranging), radar, and sonar.

LiDAR is used to create a 3D map of the car’s surroundings, while radar and sonar are used to detect obstacles and other vehicles.

The data from these sensors is processed by a computer, which then determines the best way for the car to navigate. The computer can also communicate with other autonomous cars to avoid accidents.

There are five different levels of autonomous driving. In general, even though the public is less concerned with these levels, they are very important for the manufacturers of self-driving cars.

The range starts from level 1, where the car can independently accelerate or steer, to level 5, which implies complete automation in all imaginable conditions. [3]

As far as autonomous, flying cars go…

These aircraft may not look exactly like Blade Runner’s imaginings. But they aren’t all that far off. Far smaller than a commercial plane, most are designed with rotors instead of wings, which allow for vertical takeoff and landing. Tilt rotors, for example, allow for efficiency in forwarding flight at longer distances, while multi-rotors are designed to reduce noise in hover flight.

Most importantly, these vehicles are designed to offer faster commutes than traditional modes of transit for individuals, especially in traffic-clogged cities. [4]

 

Autonomous, Flying Cars — The next big disruptor??

The next big disruptor for transportation is likely to be autonomous, flying vehicles.

Self-driving cars have been gaining traction for quite some time now. But ground transportation is not the only industry looking to go autonomous.

In a new BluePaper, Morgan Stanley Research says autonomous urban aircraft may no longer be the stuff of comic books. Accelerating tech advances and investment could create a $1.5 trillion market by 2040.

According to Adam Jonas, Head of Global Auto and Shared Mobility Research at Morgan Stanley:

“Urban air mobility represents opportunities within infrastructure, fleet management, software, hardware, and content, much like autonomous vehicles.”

China has been pushing autonomous transportation to help combat its congested roadways during rush hour. Ehang, an autonomous flying vehicle company, has made what it describes as the world’s first passenger-carrying electric autonomous aerial vehicle. The Ehang 216 is a two-person autonomous flying vehicle that can travel about 22 miles (35 km) at speeds of up to 80 mph (130 kph).

In early September, Ehang announced that its headquarters in Guangzhou, China will serve as the pilot area for its flying cars. If successful, China could become the first country to have autonomous flying vehicles transporting commuters. [5]

 

Germany-based company is close behind with its Volocopter.

VoloCity, which would be Voloctoper’s first commercially licensed vehicle, can hold up to two people and a small carry-on. It can fly a distance of 22 miles (35 km) at an airspeed of about 63 mph (110 kph). Volocopter also plans on opening a “VoloPort” in Singapore by the end of this year.

It will function as an airport, allowing passengers to check in and wait in a lounge for their flight. The airport will also include an operations and services center where the air vehicles can be maintained and stored. [6]

While autonomous flying cars may still be a few years away, there are already some technologies that resemble them in some way.

Drones are perhaps the closest thing to flying cars that currently exist. Military drones have been around for years.

In other cases, drones are increasingly being used for a variety of purposes, such as delivering packages or taking aerial photographs.

Jetpacks and Hoverboards are also pretty close. Electrified, autonomous vertical takeoff and landing vehicles (VTOLs) are gaining traction.

 

Challenges of Using Autonomous, Flying Cars…

The future of transportation is looking very different from what we have today. In the coming years, we will see a shift to driverless, flying cars.

This new form of transportation comes with a whole host of challenges, but it also has the potential to revolutionize the way we travel.

One of the biggest challenges facing driverless, flying cars is safety.

These vehicles will need to be able to navigate safely through busy airspace, and they will need to be able to avoid collisions with other objects.

Timothy Reuter, Head of Aerospace and Drones at the World Economic Forum explains,

“Large amounts of capital have been flowing into the sector, potentially accelerating its deployment. In February and March of 2021 three flying car companies, Archer, Joby, and Lilium, all became publicly traded through Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs).

Significant sums of money are needed to not just design and manufacture these airframes, but also to get them certified as safe by major civil aviation authorities such as the FAA and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).” [7]

In 2021, the main concern for customers worldwide regarding autonomous cars was safety. Around 61 percent of respondents were worried about potential safety issues due to machine error and some 51 percent of respondents were concerned with safety issues due to human error. [8]

There is also the question of what happens if something goes wrong with a driverless car. Who is responsible if there is an accident?

Another challenge is infrastructure.

Driverless, flying cars will need a completely different infrastructure than what we have today. There will need to be charging stations for these vehicles, and there will need to be places where they can take off and land.

This will be a big challenge for cities and towns that are not prepared for this new form of transportation.

Despite the challenges, driverless, flying cars have the potential to revolutionize transportation. These vehicles could make it possible for people to travel much farther and much faster than they can today.

They could also make it possible for people to avoid traffic jams and other delays. If these vehicles become a reality, they could change the way we live and work.

Interestingly, according to the World Economic Forum’s Principles of the Urban Sky, for every job created directly in this new aero industry, six jobs will be generated indirectly.

 

Risks of Using Autonomous, Flying Cars…

There are many potential risks associated with the use of driverless, flying cars.

One of the most significant risks is the potential for crashes. If a driverless car crashed into another vehicle, or a group of pedestrians, the results could be catastrophic.

According to The National Law Review, there are 9.1 driverless car crashes per million miles driven.

The self-driving car accident rate is higher than that of human-driven vehicles. That is to say, regular vehicles have a rate of 4.1 crashes per million miles driven.

Even though these cars’ goal is to prevent as many accidents as possible, they still have a long way to go to have a lower rate of accidents than regular cars. However, when comparing the severity of injuries, fewer severe injuries are caused by self-driving cars. [9]

There is also the potential for cyber attacks on these vehicles…

Hackers could take control of a driverless car and use it to commit crimes or cause accidents. There is also the concern that flying cars could increase traffic congestion and pollution.

Another major concern surrounding driverless, flying cars is privacy…

If these vehicles are equipped with cameras and other sensors, they could be used to gather information about people without their consent. This could violate people’s privacy and lead to the misuse of personal data.

Finally, there is the issue that driverless, flying cars could put people out of work. Taxi and Uber drivers, for example, could be replaced by these vehicles. This could lead to mass unemployment and social unrest.

 

But the big question is: Can people afford driverless, flying cars?

The answer, unfortunately, for now, is probably not…

These kinds of vehicles are likely to be extremely expensive, and unless you’re wealthy, you’ll probably struggle to come up with the money to buy one.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that driverless, flying cars will eventually become more affordable, but for the time being, it seems like they’ll be out of reach for most people.

 

So, what does all this mean for transportation?

Well, for starters, it means that we’ll be seeing a lot more autonomous and driverless cars on the road in the coming years.

Flying cars, once seen as part of some space-age future, are within reach. Cautious predictions from technology companies, as well as regulatory agencies, say these solutions could be in place in as soon as 5 to 10 years.

But to ensure the public trusts this new option, and that it truly works for people’s needs, cities must start planning now to shape standards and expectations. [10]

 

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References:

[1]. Adrienne Bernhard, 12th November 2020, Future Inc, The flying car is here – and it could change the world

[2]. Martin Placek, 8th July 2022, Size of the global autonomous car market in 2021, with a forecast through 2026 (in billion U.S. dollars)

[3]. Carsurance, 20th February 2022, 24 Self-Driving Car Statistics & Facts

[4]. Adrienne Bernhard, 12th November 2020, Future Inc, The flying car is here – and it could change the world

[5, 6]. IEEE Innovation at work, Autonomous Flying Vehicles Hit the Sky

[7]. Douglas Broom, World Economic Forum, 1st April 2021, Flying cars and driverless buses – the future of urban mobility has landed

[8]. Martin Placek, 27th April 2021, Statista, Main concerns among customers worldwide regarding autonomous cars in 2021

[9]. Carsurance, 20th February 2022, 24 Self-Driving Car Statistics & Facts

[10]. Linda Lacina, 15th September 2020, World Economic Forum, The next big disruption is coming. How cities can prepare for ‘flying cars’

 

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