Look back at the writings of science fiction from thirty years or so ago, and by now the skies were expected to be full of cars – flying cars. Instead, we got traffic jams. But now a German based company is claiming to have found a fix – do flying cars beckon – after-all?
Peter Thiel, the man who co-founded PayPal once said “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”
According to his take on technology, it has been a disappointment a let-down, nothing like the world envisioned in that US cartoon from the early 1960s the Jetsons.
Well, the Jetson never really was meant to be taken seriously, but let’s face it, flying cars was a constant theme of science fiction. Instead, if anything, travel is taking longer. Since the demise of Concorde, it is no longer possible for passengers to travel faster than the speed of sound, and the UK’s motorways, the M25 in particular, feel more like car parks than places where you can put your foot down.
And the skies seem car-less, although it is clear, they may not be drone-less for much longer.
But now the German company, Lilium, reckons it is close to developing a zero emissions electric plane, capable of vertical take-off, which will be – minus quite short wings – distinctly car shaped.
The flying vehicle, which it calls the Lilium Jet, is projected to have a range of 300 kilometres, will travel up to 300 kilometres per hour.
Lilium says that it will produce zero emissions, and it will be “the most efficient and eco-friendly individual means of transportation of our time. By providing ultra-redundancy, the Lilium Jet will also set new standards in safety.”
The company says that “Lilium aims at liberating towns and cities from today’s congestion and pollution, with people able to come and go freely, vastly expanding the radius of their everyday lives.”
And how about this for a mission statement: “Our mission is to enable a world where everybody can fly anywhere, anytime.”
Details on how it will work, or indeed pricing, are sketchy, to say the least.
The company says that “The Lilium Jet consists of a rigid winged body with 12 flaps. Each one carries three electric jet engines. Depending on the flight mode, the flaps tilt from a vertical into a horizontal position. At take-off, all flaps are tilted vertical, so that the engines can lift the aircraft. Once airborne, the flaps gradually tilt into a horizontal position, leading the aircraft to accelerate. When they have reached complete horizontal position, all lift necessary to stay aloft is provided by the wings as on a conventional airplane.”
The company also seems to have some kind of Uber style model in mind, with the users being able to order a flight by use of a smart-phone.
Is such technology possible? And if it is, in a world of drones, how safe will the air be?
Well, the company puts a great deal of emphasis on safety: but even so, the challenge is clear.
This is the puzzle that the company has not yet answered. Batteries are heavy, and the kind of Lithium ion battery required to produce vertical take-off would be very heavy – would flight really be practical? If so, how?
Until more details are forthcoming, there is good reason for cynicism.
But even so, the idea does seem pretty darn exciting.
But then flying cars may be the challenge of the next decade. After-all, Lilium is not alone, there is, for example Volocopter, which has been described as a ‘personal drone.”
Maybe flying cars are on their way – and if that is so, how will the existing car industry respond?
Peter Thiel may have bemoaned lack of flying cars, but his colleague at PayPal, Elon Musk has given us electric cars, the dream of colonising Mars, and potential to travel at 700 miles per hour via hyperloop. But what about a flying Tesla?
To misquote a bunch of crows: “I have seen a house fly, and I have seen a needle that winks its eye, but I think I will have seen everything, when I see an automobile fly.”