Flying cars lift off in fight for the future

A to B: Future of transport could be the hyperloop (above) or flying cars like the TF-X (below).

Would you rather zoom through a vacuum at the speed of sound or soar through the air in your own car? The world’s most powerful entrepreneurs are battling to invent the future of transport.

Three titans of technology — Elon Musk, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, and Google’s Larry Page — are racing to revolutionise transport forever. Each take one of two sides: the hyperloop or the flying car.

And it seems the flying car has taken an early lead. This week Google unveiled their Cora “flying taxis” in New Zealand — the revelation coming after months of “stealth” test flights. While still in their development phase, the flying machines could be available to the public within three years.

However, some remain unenthusiastic. Maverick entrepreneur Elon Musk tweeted last month: “If you love drones above your house, you’ll really love vast numbers of ‘cars’ flying over your head that are 1,000 times bigger and noisier and blow away anything that isn’t nailed down when they land.”

Instead Musk proposes a radically different vision of the future of transport: the hyperloop.

The hyperloop involves pods travelling down a tube very, very quickly. The tube, which would likely be below ground, is almost empty of air, decreasing resistance. The pods levitate, removing friction. In theory, this lets them reach 760 mph — almost the speed of sound. So you could travel from London to Edinburgh in half an hour.

Flying cars have been “just around the corner” for decades, however none have ever made it into commercial production. But it is not just Google making big advances.

Uber is pushing flying cars with its Elevate initiative. They would take off and land vertically, but fly horizontally. Uber says they could revolutionise travel in cities by making it faster and cheaper. Drone technology has helped too: in January Chinese firm Ehang released footage of people riding in its passenger drone.

Musk’s hyperloop is more hare-brained, but it might be closer to reality. A hyperloop has hit a top speed of 192 mph, and despite the huge costs building it would incur, the project’s mass transit focus may make it more likely to garner support from policy-makers.

So which side are you cheering on?

Pipe dream

The hyperloop is the way to go, say some. It mixes the democracy of public transport with some of the most thrilling technology imaginable. Travelling at the speed of sound would cut out hours wasted on trains or aeroplanes, revolutionising the global economy. And flying cars will only ever be available to the top 1%.

Nonsense, reply others — ordinary cars were once seen as elite toys too, but they proved so successful that everyone soon wanted one. How can you prefer the idea of speeding through a pitch black vacuum over soaring past mountains, around skyscrapers and into the clouds? Flying cars would give you ultimate freedom. They are the way forward.

You Decide

  1. Which would you rather became the future of transport: the hyperloop or the flying car?
  2. Do you expect to travel in either a hyperloop or a flying car at some point in your lifetime?

Activities

  1. List all of the practical obstacles to the hyperloop and flying cars becoming mainstream forms of transport. Which has the most hurdles to overcome?
  2. Draw a picture showing how you think a flying car of the future might look. Compare with a partner — how different are your ideas and why?

Some People Say...

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Arthur C. Clarke

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Out of all of the most outlandish transport modes of the future, from hoverboards to magic carpets, the hyperloop and the flying car currently stand the greatest chance of becoming mainstream. Uber and several smaller companies are currently working on flying car technology, while Elon Musk is the main brain behind the hyperloop, which has already had several successful test runs.
What do we not know?
Many people are still sure that nothing will ever come of this. And there are decent reasons for this: the existence of technology does not mean that something comes into public use. For that to happen, people and governments need to be convinced that the new technology is both safe and cost-effective. And people used to planes, trains and automobiles will take a lot of persuading.

Word Watch

Flying taxis
The vehicles are self-piloted and can take off vertically. While known as “taxis”, they closely resemble drones or helicopters. For more information see the New York Times link in Become An Expert.
Below ground
All tests so far have been underground, but according to engineer Ismaeel Babur, who works on Hyperloop One: “It is preferable to stay above ground, except when necessary in very dense urban areas. Below ground options are definitely possible; however, above ground systems are generally cheaper, faster to build, and easier to control construction.”
Decreasing resistance
This would also mean that it would need far, far less energy than an aeroplane travelling at a slightly slower speed.
Speed of sound
The speed of sound is 343 metres per second.
Passenger drone
Ehang’s drone has flown at 80 mph, climbed to 300 metres and operated in a storm. Many now believe that passenger drones are much more likely to succeed than authentic flying cars.