How many projects of flying transport have appeared in recent years? Dozens, no less. There are many variations on this subject: individual vehicles with a vertical or horizontal takeoff, air taxi and passenger drones. All these projects have one thing in common ― they do not reach out beyond prototypes. And here’s another one of them that appeared in the news and tempted us to write this article. The company Airspace Experience Technologies (AirSpaceX) has presented at the motor show in Detroit a reduced copy of the future autonomous aircraft (taxi) with a vertical takeoff and landing. It is designed to carry two passengers at an estimated speed of 400 km/h. Mobi-One ― this is the name of the future air taxi ― rises into the air on four electric motors mounted on the wings. It is designed for two passengers or a cargo weighing up to 200 kg. Its cruise speed is assumed at 241 km/h, the flight range on a single battery charge is 104 km.
Of course, the dream of flying is worth the efforts that are undertaken by engineers around the world drawing a sketch of another “personal aircraft”. Traffic above the flow of vehicles is appealing not only aesthetically, but also practically: after all, airspace is a huge free zone where part of the traffic flow can be moved up. The current situation with congestion on the roads does not suit anyone, the environment also suffers: for example, in the U.S. urban drivers spend 42 hours a year sitting in traffic jams emitting 17 billion kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Ground transportation inevitably creates a lot of problems, vehicles are becoming more in quantity and the roads will eventually freeze without movement. In the future, in any case traffic will have to be divided into echelons, as in aviation. The only question is which technology would be the first at a new level. It is therefore not surprising that venture capital funds, large industrial companies and even some governments are already showing the interest to startups in the field of flying transport. But at the same time, the creators of such vehicles will have to solve many challenging objectives, and not only in the technological sphere.
The biggest technical challenge is the creation of a safe and energy-efficient motor for a vertical take-off, since, indeed, there is no possibility to build runways under the conditions of a densely populated city. With today’s technologies, these motors are unstable in hover and transition modes and subject to side slipping. There is also another problem: the use of classical internal combustion engines is hardly possible in urban aviation due to the destruction of takeoff and landing sites with hot exhaust gases and the high cost of fuel. Electric motors, in their turn, are also not ready yet to embark on the service of flying cars: today there exist no batteries of the needed capacity to provide power supply to them. Moreover, if electric cars can carry large blocks of heavy batteries on the ground, the airmobile would still have to lift them in the air.
One more challenge is the control of the flying transport. Here, too, there is the same problem as in modern cars, only worse ― the autopilots are not perfect enough. And people would need to have a remarkable skill to control the car, which not every professional pilot can handle. In order to ensure that the cars would spread widely and become one of the daily modes of transport, it will be necessary to completely abandon the manual control in favor of the autopilot, which will be much more difficult compared to road cars or existing aircraft. It is hardly possible today.
One more important issue, which applies to the whole transport sector in general and to flying vehicles, in particular, is the issue of environmental safety. It is obvious that the conventional engines used in aircraft do not meet modern requirements ― 11% of CO2 emissions from transport accounts for aircraft. However, the situation is more complicated with electric motors: in theory, they can work on clean energy. However, the harsh reality is this: the largest part of the modern power industry is based on fossil fuels, and power plants emit enormous amounts of greenhouse gases. Therefore, flying cars with their energy-intense engines will only aggravate the environmental situation without the development of renewable energy sources.
In addition to the imperfection of technologies, legislation interferes with a large-scale introduction of flying cars today. The declarative principle of flight regulation does not work everywhere, and many cities are completely closed for aircraft. And this is not to mention safety issues: the same notorious terrorists would not have to hijack a plane, they would be able to buy or rent it.
Under such initial conditions, we can say that flying cars today are not a widely scalable solution. Yes, the process in the next dozens of years will show whether we will fly in private aeromibiles, but today it is only possible to enumerate a long list of challenges that developers of flying vehicles will have to face. At the same time, transport problem should be solved already now and the solution must be strategic and versatile. Such a solution is available ― it is SkyWay.
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