Blame it on George Jetson. Ever since the futuristic cartoon debuted, the public has been fascinated with flying cars. But the appeal of vehicles that can take to the skies preceded actual cars as we know them, dating back to the Henson Aerial Steam Carriage, which was patented back in 1841. More than a century and a half later, we’re still no closer to getting flying cars, although it’s not from lack of effort or interest.
Google and Uber last year showed off personal flying pods; this week, three separate companies unveiled flying car concepts at the Geneva Motor Show, including Audi and Porsche. And while they all generated press coverage (including this column), they won’t be taking off anytime soon.
Audi teamed up with Airbus and Italdesign, which is owned by the automaker’s parent company Volkswagen, to display a drone-like flying robo-taxi, dubbed the Pop.Up Next. It’s a quadcopter/city car combo that’s electric and autonomous and would be summoned via an app. If the car gets stuck in traffic, the Airbus-developed drone can lift the passenger compartment pod, leaving the chassis behind.
Audi calls the Pop.Up Next a “flexible on-demand concept that could open up mobility in the third dimension to people in cities.” And though it’s a tempting idea for anyone sitting in soul-crushing traffic, Audi acknowledges that the Pop.Up Next is just a futuristic concept and it has no plans to develop it.
Sister company Porsche also envisions its cars taking to the skies to avoid traffic. “Urban environments are jam-packed,” Klaus Zellmer, Porsche’s North American president and CEO told CNET. “We need to find answers to that problem, and one answer is the third dimension.”
But the sports car company is taking a different approach than Audi; the driver would be in control. “Imagine having this kind of object being able to fly on its own completely from A to B, but also enabling the passenger or pilot to take control for a certain amount of time,” Detlev von Platen, a member of the Porsche board added. “This could be a Porsche.”
The third flying car concept that landed in Geneva is from the Dutch company Pal-V. It isn’t technically an airplane or a drone, but an autogyro, a kind of airplane/helicopter hybrid. While it’s cheaper to produce and operate and easier to fly than a helicopter, autogyros can’t take off vertically; they need a runway, like a fixed-wing aircraft.
But it’s compact—about the size of a full-size truck—and with the rotors folded it can fit in a standard parking space. The Pal-V also runs on premium gasoline and has a fuel capacity of about 26 gallons, giving it over four hours of flight time.
Prices for the Pal-V—like any flying car—are sky high and out of reach for the average commuter. The Liberty Pioneer version of the Pal-V costs $599,000, while a more basic Sport version is $399,000. But don’t pull out your checkbook just yet since Pal-V describes these as “expected prices.”
The Terrafugia Transition flying car that’s attracted lots of attention over the years is expected to cost $279,000. More than 100 people put down a $10,000 deposit in 2012 to get a Transition of their own. But like the rest of us, they’re still waiting for flying cars to finally become a reality—and not just something fun to read about.
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