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From sci-fi to sky high: Here’s the future of flying cars

Flying cars first appeared in James bond movies, and people snickered and giggled when they saw that happen, but it’s no laughing matter.

Flying cars could actually become a reality as soon as 2019, after Volvo’s parent company Geely bought flying car start-up Terrafugia, which aims to sell its first cars in 2019.

According to Futurism, a technology and scientific platform, Terrafugia, a ten-year-old company, has already produced the “Transition,” a bulky vehicle with unfoldable wings that can go from driving to flying, with a horizontal takeoff like an airplane, in a few minutes.

The company states that the “Transition” is already road-legal, and it’s already accepting $10,000 deposits for those who’d like to reserve one.

Read: Air taxis will have ‘top safety and security standards’: RTA

This sounds like fun, but is it an easy thing to fly a car?

Definitely not!

What a terrific idea though. Not only do you get a bird’s eye view of the city, but you also get to wherever you want to go in a hurry. At first.

What major challenges are facing flying cars?

Read: Autonomous cars: you win some, you lose some

Traffic in the sky

A study by GTM, an information services provider, says that flying cars will eventually result in traffic up in the sky.

It quotes Howard Jennings, Managing Director of Mobility Lab, as saying that planning will be daunting. 

The thought of millions of privately owned flying cars should raise red flags, just like personal cars should have decades ago. We’re already learning from projections that driverless vehicles could make traffic worse if we don’t make smart planning decisions and policies,” he said. 

All the transport and urban specialists consulted by GTM emphasized the fact that planning and social factors, not just technological advances, would be major for the future of airborne urban transport, it said.

Watch video: 7 seriously quirky concept cars

Safety concerns

Singularity Hub, a platform for technology news, reveals that safety is among the biggest concerns of flying a car.

“With a normal car, you can often just slow to a halt and stop. But a flying car might fall out of the sky, killing not only its occupants but potentially bystanders too,” it said.

It added that the Chinese company Ehang is proposing to equip its flying car service in Dubai with a parachute. This service will apparently take a single occupant from the roof of a Dubai skyscraper to the roof of another.

“Should the parachute deploy, it is not clear whether the vehicle will have any way to control where it lands, or how safely,” it explains.

Battery constraints

GTM cites a study for Uber concluding that batteries are not ready yet in terms of energy density, charging times and life cycle.

It also says that battery costs are way too high, but believes that those will keep improving with economies of scale. 

CNBC quotes Michael Wade, Director of the Global Center for Digital Business Transformation, as saying that “the battery power-to-weight ratio today is simply not sufficient to power a flying object large enough to transport humans for more than a few minutes at a time.”

Regulatory complications

Moreover, creating new regulations for flying cars is surely a challenge.

A study by Indian Times says that since the vehicles will have to both be driven and flown, they’ll have to meet the regulations for both cars and aircraft and will have to be certified by concerned authorities separately.

“For road use, the vehicles will have to meet the crash safety norms that are prevalent in the country of sale to be eligible to be driven on the roads,” it said.

However, the European Fly Car Association reveals that flying car regulations in the US, Europe and Dubai seem to be in the most advanced stage.

“The governments in these countries have taken positive action towards the development of legal frameworks for drones and now subsequently they are working on regulations for flying cars,” it said.

Noise pollution

Cars are loud enough without adding aircraft into the urban mix.

What if a combination of cars and planes noise fills the inner city operations?

As Elon Musk remarked in an interview with Business Insider, drone-like cars could make life a lot more stressful, not easier.

“If somebody doesn’t maintain their flying car, it could drop a hubcap and guillotine you,” he said. “Your anxiety level will not decrease as a result of things that weigh a lot buzzing around your head.”