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Larry Page is pouring millions into flying cars (vox.com)
230 points by dankohn1 on Dec 30, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 224 comments

Do we actually want flying cars? They are probably less efficient because you have to overcome gravity, they are probably going to be pretty noisy, falling out of the sky and smashing into the ground is a new failure mode, ...

Flying cars are certainly a nice gadget, but do we really need or want them? I can only think of two good arguments for flying cars, entering the third dimension if we run out of space on the surface and maybe being able to get rid of our current infrastructure, i.e. no longer having to build and maintain roads and railroad tracks and the accompanying infrastructure.

In metropolitan areas it certainly looks a bit like we are running out of space on the surface but I am actually not sure that we are not just pretty bad at making use of the available space. No longer having to maintain a large piece of infrastructure seems actually the more convincing argument to me.

Surprisingly, they don't actually need to be all that inefficient.

The rolling resistance of a typical car is 0.01 to 0.015 [1], so the effective lift/drag ratio of a car's suspension is about 70 to 100, for just the wheels themselves. Missing from this number are the parasitic losses of all other unsprung mass, aerodynamic drag, and the costs incurred by traveling along roads which are neither level nor straight routes between your start and your end.

Small aircraft have L/D of 10-20 [2], and electric craft will probably fare slightly better if anything because of packaging advantages vs big ICEs.

I might do a more in depth analysis later and write up a Medium post, but my point is: Even just looking at the rolling resistance of the car and the whole L/D of aircraft, the difference is only an order of magnitude. Rolling resistance is one of the smallest contributions to drag in a car, so all up electric cars are probably only 3-6x more efficient than electric aircraft, and combustion cars are probably have a far smaller advantage.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolling_resistance#Rolling_res...

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lift-to-drag_ratio#Examples

I don't think L/D of more than 10 is realistic for a compact VTOL aircraft even in cruise mode, and then there's the vertical take off and landing component that will cause further inefficiency especially on short trips. But at the same time I don't think it matters that much.

Depends on the type of VTOL. Quad copter? Not so efficient. Tilt-wing? I imagine it's much better. (Amateur opinion disclaimer)

iirc a v-22 is below 5:1 and somewhere around 3:1

The new DEP designs will do better, but exceeding 10:1 seems unlikely

You need compare the whole system: internal combustion engine plus the gas tanks to feed it, versus an electric motor plus batteries.

The energy density of batteries is far worse than gasoline. Also, after you burn gasoline, you don't have to carry it anymore, which isn't true for batteries.

Also consider that for a plane, running out of gas can be fatal, so you can't actually use all the range. There needs to be a safety margin.

And then, consider that a practical flying car can't actually take off or land like a plane, and probably can't have the wingspan of a plane, so you might want to compare to a helicopter instead.

I have been working on a flying car project for years and can guarantee you that one/two seat Electrical VTOL is at least 30 years away, battery density must triple and then you have regulations.

Current solutions can be airborne at maximum 15 minutes considering that FAA and other agencies require 20 minutes reserve you do the math.

The Zee.aero patent design as been abandoned because they couldn't scale it to fit a passenger inside.

If by "flying car" Larry really means "Toyota Camry that can fly with middle class people inside" then that's obviously preposterous to anyone with the slightest shred of general aviation experience.

If he means "VTOL Cessna with really good avionics" it's still a tall order but perhaps within the realm of "eventually possible given great determination and unlimited money" instead of "laugh him out of town."

the cost it's also another big barrier I don't see it hitting the market at less than $250k.

As a proxy you have Icon A5 it was target at a price point of $130k in 2008 currently it's priced around $240k and only a handful have been delivered.


off course it will be possible when batteries tripple the density without increasing weight.

You will get a 25 minute around 30 miles ride with 20 minute reserve

And without being a fire hazard.

with current battery technology this is controlled but with new tech chemistry this could become a problem.

Biofuels. Otherwise, you're waiting another 20 years.

to do a small combustion engine VTOL vehicle its even harder I have only seen it work with several two stroke engines.

Another optin is turbine like the AirMule, but will be hard to use it for civilian operations the hourly cost is brutal and noise and heat is really annoying for nearby people and even passengers.


as a sidenote contrary to the rest of the world there is no regulation in the USA for a electrical LSA Ligh Sport Aircraft because it can only be powered by internal combustion engine the FAA is taking more than a decade to add two words to the regulation "and Electrical" imagine how much will take to develop a completely new regulation for electrical VTOL.

Eh, it's not that far away if we really wanted to push it.

Just add an airfoil envelope with enough of something lighter than air(heated air, helium, w/e) to offset the weight until a decent performance point is met. The heat from the engines running could help heat the gas for added efficiency.

Hybrid airships are already being marketed by Lockheed Martin so this isn't revolutionary at all.

what about the joby s2? Is that also impossible? It looks feasible and there are a bunch of people working on it... Thoughts?

similiar glider designs to Joby S2 get 1h to 1h30 flight time with current battery density, it all depends how much energy is spent doing the vertical takeoff and landing.

For electrical VTOL the Joby is probably the best bet, one big question mark is, the 16 motors how much will weight even at a very low weight of 15kg each you get 240kg/52lb in motors a similar complete two person glider weights around 300kg/661lb.

Motors will be more like 1kg each. One can get a 10 kilowatt 1 kg air cooled motor.

Batteries are the heavy bit, and in my opinion, the future there is to have batteries capable of 2 minutes of flying, and a gasoline engine as a hybrid generator.

don't know if you ou will manage lift with 160kw will depend on overall weight, you also have to factor the weight of the propeller and rotating mechanism and covers so 10 to 15 kg is not exaggerated.

Rich people want them. What society wants (needs) is a superior airport experience and more fuel efficient air travel.

I'd prioritise high speed rail over more efficient air travel. But rail is not always feasible.


   (3)  With sufficient thrust, cars fly just fine. However, this is
        not necessarily a good idea. It is hard to be sure where they
        are going to land, and it could be dangerous sitting under them
        as they fly overhead.

>Do we actually want flying cars?

There's probably a market for a vertical-takeoff vehicle serving a premium/luxury transportation niche - the same segment that is currently served by helicopters. I imagine you would still need a pilot's license and have to adhere to the rigorous FAA-maintenance schedule - so it would never be a mass-market product.

Many products (cell phones, cars, medical) started off for "the rich" and gradually became mass market. I am very surprised at how many people are not able to see a future where general purpose ground based transportation is obsolete.

It'll happen once the strict licensing is no longer needed. Currently the necessary training for flying is too long and expensive for most people.

And this is where the autonomous flying is coming into place: you will not fly this car at all. Software will be certified for this.

Which means:

1. wait for tesla like autonomous software that works for cars - we have for planes but this is a bit different 2. either high density batteries for electrical engines or very light weight ICE engines ( biodiesel or bio ethanol ) to be mass produced

It's not just the flight training that's the problem. It's the expense of maintaining and certifing the vehicle, and those regulations will never be loosened.

That's how I read this. They basically want a cheaper autonomous-helicopter-uber-like service for mid-level execs.

Two related things that first jump out to me as interesting:

- Opens up a lot of potential living space which is geographically close, but not practically connected via transit arteries

- Opens up living space in areas which are not passable by cars either because of terrain or in-tact wilderness (e.g. an off the grid home on a nearby mountain)

Both would no doubt mostly benefit the rich, but well, nobody's shocked that this is where that's targeted.

Wouldn't you still have to build infrastructure to those places to build the homes in the first place? I guess if you are filthy rich you can just airlift things in and out again.

You can source many if not most building materials from the environment wood can be chopped and made into lumber and plaster can be made out of local deposits.

If you have some sort of a mobile house factory that will utilize local materials and 3D print the rest you really only need to worry about a few materials that can't be locally sourced.

Yes this is far away but about as far as flying cars.

Heck In 2 decades you might order a house on amazon a blip will come and set it down some roomba style bots will come out and finish it and you'll jump into your flying car and move in.

When you can 3D print almost anything including your food and produce electricity locally via wind and solar you can now live in the middle of nowhere Alaska without much infrastructure.

If we're talking about the class of people who will use a flying car to get to work, airlifting containers via helicopter to construct their home is probably within reach.

Bridge choke points, mountain ranges and other small body of water crossings is where electric flying cars / taxis will shine. It would be very useful in cities such as Seattle, SF or NYC. It would also be useful for places like Victoria-Vancouver or Victoria-Seattle. You either take an inconvenient ferry for ~3 hours or you could take an on demand air taxi for 30m.

> You either take an inconvenient ferry for ~3 hours or you could take an on demand air taxi for 30m.

The SF-Alameda-Oakland ferry is already 30 minutes :).

Sorry I was unclear. I was talking about the Victoria-Vancouver ferry, which is about 3hrs. Same with the Seattle-Victoria Ferry.

The SF ferry is also slower than driving with no traffic or bart :)

But we already have point-to-point 4-seater "air taxis". They're way more expensive than a ferry otherwise they'd be everywhere, and there's no reason to think a flying car would be cheaper.

...I hate to be aggressive here, but did you read the darn article? It's the reason we're even on this page, and it directly addresses your point. That's even underselling it, the entire purpose of the article is to ask and answer your point.

My fault; I should've elaborated. I absolutely do believe that underlying technology will improve and get cheaper. I don't think that the cost of getting that technology in the air (FCC certification, maintenance, etc.) will come down significantly.

Small aircraft are already not a whole lot more sophisticated than a production car - and often less so. But nonetheless they're still an order of magnitude more expensive.

It does not so much address the issues as it glosses over them. For example, it assumes that past battery performance trends can be extrapolated, but the battery-makers, -engineers and -chemists themselves do not expect this. Nor does the article attempt to address the noise problem.

I walked away with the impression that trends couldn't be extrapolated, thanks to various snippets from the article, but there's no pull quote that clearly proves it, so, sure.

The noise problem you brought up apropos of nothing.

You're responding to a comment responding to a comment that had concerns that were already addressed by the article, to let me know your concerns weren't addressed by the article. Surely there's a better place in the comment hierarchy for this? You'll get ignored down here.

There are four consecutive paragraphs saying that battery technology is almost there and improving rapidly, and nothing more on the topic, so it is interesting that you got the impression that trends could not be extrapolated.

Yeah, I don't know either. Maybe don't think of them as flying cars, but instead as cheap helicopters on-demand.

Of course we want. But to see why, you can't imagine it as a car, like everybody insist. It's will be a vehicle, but not a plane, a drone or a car. They will not compete with these.

We definitely need for example a faster way to transport rich people than cars, but cheaper than planes in short distances.

We definitely need a better way to transport patients between hospitals than ambulances and helicopters.

We need to see the future here, not the past (the outdated idea of 'flying cars')

Let's build a bot to participate in HN discussions. Then we can all save some time and get back to work. My first two suggestions:

Q: Someone is building flying cars.

A: Do we really need them?

Q: Someone is investing money into extending human life.

A: Let's talk about the social implications of immortality.

We can abstract this a bit

Q: Innovation announced! A: Not possible based on my legacy experience/guild qualification.

That doesn't actually generalize GP, but presents a very different issue (neither of the examples you claim to be "abstracting" involve challenging the possibility of the announced innovation.) GP is more "Announcement: Innovation! Response: Questions about utility and/or unintended consequences."

There are advantages that can make them more efficient:

- Straight line transportation, saving energy & time

- Faster speedwise

- No infrastructure needed, software is basically infrastructure

- Can handle rough terrain with less maintenance

- Can deal with traffic better or have more concurrent bandwidth.

- Can allow cities to de-concentrate and people to live further away. Our model at the moment is the city model where everyone needs to live in population centers to work well.

- Less time wasted in lifts if the car is parked on the terrace.

- Less need of properties to be adjacent to roads or the cost basis of new developments to be cheaper.

- No driving needed, simplistic autopilot can work.

- No bridges needed to cross water bodies.

I would argue there's no need to ask if people want or need it, it's one of those things everyone has dreamt with lust about at some stage or another.

If seen on a massive scale, I'm not so sure about some these arguments.

Air transport will need management for safety reasons, which means air corridors, landing areas, some kind of ATC system. Which correlates to infrastructure costs, not so straight line transportation and not so time efficient commutes.

As activity centers tends to be somewhat concentrated, huge amount of flying cars will tend to go or left small areas at the same time, creating air traffic jams to land or take off.

Classic infrastructure will still be needed to transport heavy items, such as large quantities of food, machinery, etc. Even the construction phase a new developments will need those roads and bridges.

Strangely, faster transportation doesn't mean shorter commutes, quite the contrary, the average commute time tends to go way up when transports evolve to become faster and denser as it enables urban areas to grow even more. The real alternative is to "de-concentrate" activity centers to have relatively autonomous parcels with residential, work and commerce close together and necessitating only light transport forms (by foot, by bike, or light transports like tramways).

Flying cars are also mostly "fail catastrophically systems", it's good that motors are redundant, but there are not the only items that can fail. Batteries, the control surfaces, the inboard computer, or the whole structure can fail. Flying is also quite hard, specially in difficult meteorological conditions, building automation to handle such cases will be extremely hard (I've no competences in the area but the picture of a vertical landing in windy condition, seems a bit frightening).

Interesting statistic: on a per journey basis, airplanes have 2 to 3 times more death than cars, (on a per km basis it's very safe), imagine what it would looks like with a lot of small commutes.

I'm not convinced it's really the solution... I see it at best as a cheaper and more accessible helicopter ride.

Straight line transportation

Roads are quite straight over long distances, and planes don't fly in straight lines if there's something in the way (eg a storm). I wonder if there'd really be that much difference on a journey longer than a few hundred miles.

Any idea that could be a solution for roadkills deserve to be explored at least. Think in the millions of terrestrial animals, some endangered, that we could save each year.

Would be a real blessing for vanishing amphibians, hedgehogs, snakes, endemic terrestrial crabs, big cats... On the other part could be a problem for birds, bats and flying insects also, of course. And will boost the feral cat problem.

For good or worse, from a environmental point of view would be a real game changer.

Isn't that like someone in the 19th century predicting that automobiles will never happen because rail is so much more effective, comfortable, safe?

Convenience and flexibility always seem to win in the end.

Rail and electrified commuter air could be complementary. Nothing beats rail for moving large number of people efficiently.

Its not going to be flying cars as in a replacement of cars, not for a long time. What is needed is short "hops" in crowded areas.

San Jose -> SF is the example in the article that Uber gave.

Flying cars won't be used in the same role as land cars. Unless you live some kind of extreme rural life in Montana or something and have money, it's not something an individual would own.

I've always imagined micro airports. They'd be like train stations. Need to get from Irvine, CA to Pasadena, CA in 20 minutes?

With this approach the flight paths could be deterministic and the cars could be reused all the time.

Yes, we want flying cars, and yes we "need" them if we want to solve congestion and traffic as our planet grows beyond 10 billion people.

> if we want to solve congestion and traffic as our planet grows beyond 10 billion people

These are all symptoms of a badly designed city. What a place like this needs is better infrastructure, especially public infrastructure such as bike lanes, buses, and trains so that a lot of that traffic isn't necessary. Getting more people into cars will only create more problems. All you're doing is moving that traffic and congestion into the sky. If you said we needed an airbus, I'd point you to my friend who is named "airplane".

You don't get to redesign all the cities of the world, and it'd be a mighty impressive feat to move all the traffic to the sky.

There's also a lot more sky up there than there is land down here.

I think that most people who want a flying car imagine a world in which they are one of the few owners. Larry Page might be one of the few who could achieve that goal, but only so long as they are too expensive for the rest of us.

I certainly think "flying buses" should come before flying cars.

I think of low-cost airlines like that. Once I got on one with a terrible hangover in Slovakia and woke up in Italy an hour later, I don't even remember taking off. :)

We already have ryanair and easyjet.

Talking mainly about inter-region transportation. Hop a "bus" from Palo Alto to SF, etc.

If we think it of as helicopter with less (?) noise and less helipad area the first market is probably the same that uses now helicopters for urban transport.

> Do we actually want flying cars?

Agree. Not every improvement in technology is actual progress. Let's skip flying cars and wait for teleportation.

You're thinking too narrowly.

- Solve traffic

- Live in Santa Cruz, commute to SF

- Buy a mansion in Modesto, commute to Palo Alto

- The views!

These will be VTOL, electric, autonomous air taxis, not road-drivable cars.

> The views!

Obviously, these will be blocked by swarms of flying cars.

Long after they're blocked by swarms of delivery drones.

I'm skeptical about delivery drones for this reason. Between the noise, security concerns, and visual pollution it will be hard to implement mass adoption of UAV's for delivery.

I could see delivery drones for last-mile drop offs... imagine delivery trucks as automated machines with a small swarm of drones (4-6) per truck.. the truck drives a route on the main street(s), while the drones do the drop-off to the door.

It could work in that scenario... My biggest thought for drones, is it won't work from the distribution centers, simply because they are too far out from a lot of the drop off locations.. but combined with trucks, you could have the trucks drive less in-out, and drones for drop off. Would need a handler in addition to a driver though, depending on automation capability.

This would also need to be supplemented with uber-like service for deliveries that don't fit well for drone drops.

You can run the motors out of phase to cancel noise.

It doesn't work.

> - Live in Santa Cruz, commute to SF

Or we could be more ecologically and energy conscious...

Like the people currently taking private jets and helicopters!

+1 travel as the crow flies from Oakland to Mountain View in a fraction of the time. Pagether

Do people really believe that flying cars would solve traffic? Now all the traffic is in the sky! And thanks for ruining everyone else's view with your cars. Not to mention flying cars would be extremely hazardous depending on the height. You'd pretty much be required to create specific airways and means of signaling at busy locations. Congratulations, you just created another layer of roads.

You can stack the traffic. Delivery drones will kill the view anyway. You can build in passive safety + have them follow freeways.

Have you ever heard of a little thing called traffic?

Or something called a "speed limit"?

Can't believe this is the top comment on HN. Reddit? Sure, but I expect better here...

Conceivably traffic in the air would still be a problem once we get enough volume, unless we permit cars just fly wherever (huge danger!). Similarly, speed should probably be limited unless we want 200mph cars crashing into a building.

The application for it might be another form of mass(less) transit. Think about dedicated, low-lying air paths for travel between cities in the Bay Area: airBart

It's not about space ...it's about congested roads. Dedicated rail (or tubes for high speed over long distance being the exception) for mass transit is not the way to think about our improving our cities anymore. There will be a hardware - and software - solution.

Air travel means noise and carbon emissions. There is no way it's more efficient than ground based public transportation anytime soon. I work in the aviation industry and the slightest change brings a huge amount of public outcry. Between the noise, visual pollution, and energy issues it's just not going to happen.

Bad existing public transportation doesn't mean that all public transportation will be bad.

Yes we do! That's one of the things that is slowing down the whole civilization -- inability to quickly and efficiently travel especially into the places when we need to gather to do work.

Opening a new dimension will be like switching from a horse to a first Ford car - day and night in terms of speed. Practically no more traffic jams because you can always travel at higher/lower travel channels.

> They are probably less efficient because you have to overcome gravity

Yes but eventually it might get narrow. At least you wont be stuck in traffic burning gas but constantly moving.

> they are probably going to be pretty noisy

If you plan a picnic on a silver cloud 10k feet above the ground then yes. For majority of people living in cities on the ground, it won't. I can imagine first flying cars will be very noisy just like first cars were pollution monsters... but let the Government impose fines and never-ending restrictions that will make sure car makers invest large chunks into quieting them down.

> falling out of the sky and smashing into the ground is a new failure mode

First and foremost, the only way you will fly in a car when it is 100% autonomous. There will never be a car that you can control manually. Perhaps only military/LEOs/etc, but for us civilians it won't do. Most likely by the time they fly above your heads - 10-15 years from now? most street cars will be automatic as well.

You will never own the car by the way. You won't be able to make any modifications etc. You will pay equivalent to your current car payment but you will only rent (good thing is you can always get new model without hassle of selling your old one).

In terms of smashing, I bet the first design to fly human will be made with airbags covering the whole thing, similar to the recent rover flying to the Mars. By the time you "smash" to the ground, you will be one huge bouncing ball of air.

Flying cars will move us into another lap of human evolution! No doubt about it.

I hope they fly themselves as well. Humans can barely manage to safely pilot a car in 2 dimensions. I don't want to think of the carnage that would result if we took existing traffic and moved it 10,000 feet up in the air. Every fender bender would become a multiple fatality.

> if we took existing traffic and moved it 10,000 feet up in the air

Wouldn't you move it 1,000 feet up, 2,000 feet up, 3,000 feet up...

There's a lot more space in the air than on land.

Plus, in 3D you can make two non-intersecting non-parallel straight paths. Can't do that in 2D.

> There's a lot more space in the air than on land.

But that's mitigated by the fact that the failure modes and much, much worse.

I can drive safely at highway speeds with a couple hundred feet of separation between cars.

FAA rules on safe separation between planes laterally is about 3 miles, or about 50 times the distance, or 2500 times the surface area.

Plus planes compete with one another for access to airports, so you haven't actually solved any congestion issues -- the bottleneck is still near the ground.

That's for visual flight rules. There's no way this works with VFR. For one, the examples are all major cities where there's Class B airspace, requiring positive separation. So it's basically "clear of clouds", however that assumes you're cleared into Class B. There's no possible way this works with the existing ATC system.

Flying cars won't use the same airspace as turbine powered airline planes, so a new airspace designation could exist just for cars. And drones. Because drones and flying cars will be competing for the same airspace so all of them will need to use the same system.

Added: Flying cars (and to some degree drones) do compete with the same airspace as existing general aviation flights. And that's a big problem. The legacy aircraft would have to avoid the new airspace, most won't ever get an upgrade to fly autonomously; alternatively, the flying cars will have to be programmed such that they can always yield right of way to legacy aircraft.

A 3 mile horizontal radius has little to do with flying and a lot to do with speed.

At ordinary commercial airline speeds, it's the equivalent of a "20-second rule" (i.e. it's the distance covered in 20 seconds by a 500-600mph vehicle).

Just the same, cars can be driven almost bumper to bumper, at arbitrarily low speeds, in ten foot wide lanes. The realities of wind and minimum forward speed and prop wash dictate that aircraft will need a lot more clearance than a car does. I'm sure it will depend on the particular air vehicle and the rules of traffic in the sky, but I for one would have to be convinced that aircraft can give better throughput than a road can. On the face of things, I'm not sure that's the case.

There is a 250KIAS speed limit below 10000'MSL that applies to everyone flying VFR including airlines. They're quickly climbing out above that and end up being a non-factor. The real issue is all the other general aviation aircraft.

Once you're past the threshold of "the fall will kill you" it's better to be higher.

Gravitational potential energy is a little more reliable than aircraft engines. if you lose propulsion, you can convert altitude to airspeed at your leisure, subject to the glide ratio. But only if you have it :).

Whatever else goes wrong, being further away from the ground gives you more time to deal with it.

I think everyone working on this is well-aware of this problem. It's obvious that there can't be widespread adoption without self-piloting technology. The danger to passengers and people on the ground is much too great, and the burden of getting a pilot license is also too much of an obstacle for most people. There are other considerations such as requirements for frequent routine inspections on flying vehicles, which many people couldn't be trusted to fulfill, which also suggest that a self-driving-uber kind of model is really the right solution.

Shameless plug: my blog post from last year on this topic: https://pointersgonewild.com/2015/09/15/all-hope-is-not-lost...

Automatic flight is much easier than autonomous driving. Not much to run into up there :).

>Not much to run into up there :)

So far. In a future where people commute in flying cars while delivery drones descend from some flying warehouse I'm not so sure this stays true.

The saving grace is probably that up there we don't have to accommodate legacy vehicles. We can just force all airborne vehicles to talk to each other with some universal collision avoidance/traffic routing protocol.

> We can just force all airborne vehicles to talk to each other with some universal collision avoidance/traffic routing protocol.

It's not exactly what you described, but in the US, the FAA already has a requirement for aircraft to broadcast their position and velocity in all but the least congested airspace by 2020 [1]. This has been in the works for over a decade [2], and among other things, the information provided by this system can be used to augment existing collision avoidance schemes [3].

[1] https://www.faa.gov/nextgen/programs/adsb/faq/#o2

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_dependent_surveillan...

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traffic_collision_avoidance_sy...

"Not much to run into up there :)"

Birds, hills, turbulence.

Ya. Having just taken a 6 personal commercial plane in stormy, windy weather I'm glad I had two professional pilots driving. It was absolutely terrifying, and I can't imagine your ordinary person feeling comfortable with it. I couldn't wait to get off the plane ASAP and thought we might crash on landing.

Honestly the plane was likely flying itself 90+% of the time. The computers are much better and giving a smooth ride in turbulance.

For fun take a lot at the outer trim tabs when flying in rough skies. The computer adjusts them like 20 times a second to keep the wings stable, kinda cool to see

Other flying cars.

Are you familiar with Smeed's Law? I think that it will also apply to flying cars. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smeed's_law

In general aviation (anything other than the airlines for our purposes) midair collisions happen with alarming regularity anywhere there is any congregation of aircraft (typically within 10mi of a non-towered airport). Add to this that they are nearly 100% fatal, unlike traffic collisions, and you have a recipe for disaster. There are systems coming online to help mitigate this issue (ADS-B) but they've been in the pipeline for years and won't see universal adoption until 2020 in theory.

I doubt it, there's just so much space up there. So first, no concept of lanes. Thinking in 2D space, everything becomes a road. Increase that another dimension, so now everything is a road and there's hundreds of levels of road.

As long as the flight software keeps the cars/planes a decent distance from each other traffic will never be an issue when flying.

A much bigger problem will be parking, since no traffic means everyone will fly everywhere all the time. Parking will be an extreme issue for city centers. The wait in traffic will probably turn into a wait to park

I suspect that, even in 3d space, there will be a concept of lanes. You still want volumes of space designated for one direction or another, at the very least to reduce the number of collision-calculations the guiding system has to make.

Parking shouldn't be an issue? We'll have vertical parking structures that can be entered/exited on every level.

I wouldn't want to fly any kind of helicopter or multicopter into a door in the side of a traditional multi story parking building. the sudden and asymmetric entrance into ground-effect will roll the aircraft, and I'm not sure what having a roof above your rotors would do - possible choke them of airflow and force them into high-speed-stall.

airflow near walls is turbulent, and the funneling effect may suck the aircraft towards the wall.

Solvable problems - you just have to build a landing pad away from the side of the building.

Totally true. I imagine you'd have to have some kind of checkerboard of landing pads.

And, if our flying cars are helicopters or multicopters, we've got more problems, because we can't actually stack that many helicopters over eachother, due to the interference of their air columns. :-/

I think realistically all of the caroplanes will be built more like quadrocopters than normal aircraft. It's much less efficient but the only thing that really meets manuevability and safety constraints

Until everyone has a flying car?

Surely it would be simpler than dealing with the complexity current '2d' autonomous car systems face?

As long as you have designated drop zones, everything else becomes mathematically simpler.

But their entire path would require a drop zone. So in effect, there would be these long strips on the ground mirroring the flight paths of these flying cars. You might even run out of space on the ground for drop zones.

Just designate all (currently free) parking spaces as drop zones, and all roads as emergency drop zones.

Since ground-based cars will in all probability continue to be a thing, roads are not guaranteed to be empty, but are guaranteed to be plentiful and nearly everywhere. Autonomous cars can be signaled as some road strip is reserved for emergency landing, and within seconds they can vacate the road strip and block it from conventional vehicles (assuming a sufficient portion of ground vehicles becomes autonomous).

Roads are guaranteed not to be empty enough for this purpose in any urban area - road traffic might diminish somewhat, but not go away, with the arrival of flying cars.

Even if a flying car could fold up to be the size of a current car while parked (which is not at all an easy matter) it will not be that small in a landing configuration.

Just follow freeways. Though that gives up point to point efficiency.

With the type of aircraft in the article, they could come down like helicopters do, right?

I figured that the drop zone would be used if the vehicle encountered some failure, and had to land immediately (or crash land even), which would prevent it from continuing flight to a smaller drop zone that's some distance away.

It's ok, autonomous flying cars will save the day

Translation:- Larry Page is spending millions of his personal wealth - which he is entitled to do - into a development quest to develop personal dual-use road/aircraft. This will never become economic, although is has been shown many times to be doable, with numerous products developed. None survived the economic screen, let alone the FAA screen. Let us see why:- Ever see a traffic jam? lines of 1000's of cars stopped or going slowly in a wave pattern. - Yes - we see them all the time. Can you see, in your mind's eye an aerial traffic jam, with 1000's of airplanes halted in mid air for a clear path? No. We have never seen them, and we never will, until we invent sky=hooks to hang them on, or a workable anti-gravity system(which may well be impossible).

That said, the planes will have to keep moving a little above stall speed. Can you imagine the air traffic control nightmare of these 1000's of carplanes?

So these are enough to defeat the mass aspect. They may well be viable in Australia, our back with large vistas of flat land and little weather on which 10,000 or more landing strips can be built. Well, we have that now in Australia, but we use airplanes to go from place to place over longer distances and we use cars/trucks for local use. ALl this said, Larry will make his plane, he may sell a few to the idle rich, but they will never become commonplace.

I get smatterings of your comments of the similar old idea of

"Can you imagine a mechanical horse carriage where all 4 hooves moved in unison?! Balderdash, I must say. There's no way 4 legs could ever move that fast and that synchronized! It'll never happen. Now, Jeeves, go ready my carriage. We're going to meet a weird entrepreneur by the name of Henry Ford."

You're right. With old "state of the art", and yes I do say old, having 100+ planes in a square mile would be very trying. But we're talking of no encryption, no authentication, no anti-jamming, no anything really. And that's from a 2012 presentation at Defcon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXv1j3GbgLk

Well, cars came into being at first as steam driven, but the weight was high and there were no hard roads, so they got along on tracks = rail road. Later smaller gasoline driven machines came along (first Benz) and it advanced because it freed us from costly, maintenance intensive, food intensive and crap/pee intensive horses. Before cars many large city street were 2-3 feet deep in horse shit. As for control, huge latency issues would hinder large amounts of traffic.

Thanks for the link, that's incredible. Like, incredibly bad. Have you heard any news on this?

Just skimmed quickly but I don't think they talking about actual flying cars, i.e., not dual-use. They're talking about small, electric, autonomous aircraft that can take off vertically that could be used on demand.

that would reduce the numbers and with automation and better batteries and a universal grid it might have a chance?

The air traffic control issues are surely the easiest aspect of the whole thing. It's just a large 3D pathfinding problem, the kind of thing computers eat for breakfast. I don't think anyone imagines they'd be manually flown.

One of the problems with denser and denser air traffic control is you can only speed up the computers. The flying objects still have speed, altitude, inertia etc and that sort of multipath problem (called the salesman's problem) soon becomes intractably complex. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Travelling_salesman_problem

How's the Ehang 184 coming along?[1] That's an electric flying car, essentially a big 8-prop drone, announced last June. They're targeting short-distance travel within big, crowded cities in China. China's 1% will be able to get across Beijing in 10 minutes.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bs4nDFgVx2o

First comment makes a good observation. When a plane loses power, it glides. When a helicopter loses power, it autorotates [1].

If a single engine on a quadcopter loses power, it crashes [2]. There is work being done on mitigating this, but I don't see why you'd go for a quad versus tri- or helicopter.

(Quadcopters are better than other aerial platforms at one thing: maneuverability. To get this agility they sacrifice speed, efficiency and payload weight.)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autorotation

[2] https://www.quora.com/Can-a-quadcopter-fly-without-one-rotor

The Ehang 184 has 8 propellers, two for each of the four quad points. I'd assume the reason is safety, that it can limp to the ground with just 7.

You're wrong about a quadcopter not being able to fly with 3 rotors, see this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsHryqnvyYA

That looks like it would be quite a ride with a human on-board, but would probably suck less than crashing.

That's fine as long as all 8 have independent batteries and flight controllers.

> If a single engine on a quadcopter loses power, it crashes

If one motor fails, the quadcopter could turn off the opposite motor and reverse the direction of one of the remaining motors, so that it is left with two opposing motors spinning in opposite direction. The torque of two motors might be enough to keep it flying. Some steering would be possible with the assistance of the third working motor which could spin in either direction as needed.

> reverse the direction of one of the remaining motors

Pretty sure you won't survive that transition since your craft will be completely out of control in the seconds it takes to kill all rotational velocity and spin a rotor up again, at least for large sized rotors.

The Ehang seems interesting, but ultimately it's limited by battery tech and the fundamental inefficiencies of the design which makes it more of a gimmick than anything else.

There's enough open source information laying around on the internet to figure out the power draw of the Ehang in flight and from there you can figure out roughly how much the batteries on it weigh (spoiler: it's many 10s of kilograms for the 23min flight time they claim [1]).

Don't forget that these batteries will degrade with time, especially in such a high-load performance regime. This will further limit your flight time until you replace them. On top of that, having 8 tiny props is always going to be less efficient than a fixed-wing or helicopter-like design.

If you're a Chinese billionaire, you don't care that your "flying car" has these limitations, but these same limitations (among many others) preclude the Ehang from becoming an actual practical method of transportation.

[1] http://www.ehang.com/news/137.html

Larry loves flying cars. I was visiting Google I want to say at least five years ago, and on that day they happen to have a "flying car showcase". Larry had invited companies with flying car prototypes to showcase their items, and they were for sale (for about $300K - $500K, well within the affordability range of the pre-IPO folks). They were basically just cars with foldable wings, so they were more like cars that could turn into small planes.

I'm saying it now. Flying cars for the general population is just not going to happen until the repulsor lift is invented, and ubiquitous with all aircraft. Many, many years into the future. Long after those of us on HN are gone.

There is just zero need for this right now, and is just silly nonsense. Work on making our ground systems 100% safe, efficient, and reliable first.

Why not?

With self driving, it makes a hell of a lot more sense than autonomous cars. Any point in a 30 mile typical travel radius is a <15 minute flight.

Because we need to think realistically, and economically. Improving, and incrementing familiar technology now. Not introducing another mess in the air. We haven't even got self-driving land vehicles, and we're just going to make the jump to aircraft that NO ONE is familiar with? We still rely on primitive controlled explosions to get off our planet. Sure it's a neat idea, but this isn't the Fifth Element world yet.

Update ground infrastructure, improve public transportation, make renewable energy a priority, get our cars driving themselves.

This is probably the argument horse carriage operators made when mass produced cars were just coming into being.

It's also the argument used by naysayers of corporate jet cards.

Self flying aircraft are much easier than cars. Fewer variables and years of experience in military contexts.

My parents live in a rural area 16 mikes from our city center. Due to terrain and roads, it's a 30 mile/60 minute trip. With a flying car/shuttle, its no more than 20 minutes.

I'm going to infer you're talking about drones. There is a quantum leap difference between self flying military robots, and ones that carry humans around safely during rush hour crowds.

What would someone say in 1996 about a form of cruise control that functions like an airplane shipping today in a Tesla?

What would the average person say about a self-driving cab that is currently being piloted by Uber at that time?

I'm honestly surprised about the downvoting and snark here. There are Air Force officers sitting in trailers in Nevada right now controlling swarms of semi-autonomous drones, performance surveillance and blowing stuff up. Why is a simple air taxi beyond the imagination?

Remote controlled aircraft are not even in the same ballpark as autonomous aircraft that pick up humans, and drop them off at school/work/home. No one is arguing that this won't be common place someday, but that is a distant future. Self driving cabs are natural a iteration of an existing mode of transportation. Going from manual land cars, to automated flying cars is not even close.

In theory, we might develop a vertical-liftoff flying fully-autonomous car, that starts anywhere and brings you to the free parking spot closest to the target. We would have to overcome some safety challenges, and convince society that it's safe (to even enable the needed reforms in airspace regulations).

Now even if we did all that, with current technology flight is both incredibly noisy and less fuel efficient than driving (commercial airliners are primarily efficient because hundreds of people travel in one vehicle).

It's not really a physical limitation, after all maglev trains gain fuel efficiency and noise reduction by floating. But our existing technologies for free flight just aren't good fits for cars.

Cost and safety.

^ This. Think about the capacity constraints during your typical commute. All those times you have ever been held up in traffic could be massively diminished thanks to increase short-hop flight commutes.

Why do you think the airspace won't have traffic?

You want to end traffic with modern accessible tech?

Build ten layer freeways.

As New York City first discovered when the Triborough Bridge was built, more highway capacity generates more traffic.

Today only the Uber-rich can afford short haul flying. With a airtaxi/flying car scenario, just about anyone could fly across their metro area for some special occasion.

+1. Fliers can solve commute hell. Every building has roof, which can be used as a pad for fliers, which will solve problem with parking.

Nuclear batteries can provide enough electricity for flier for years. We just need to develop safer nuclear batteries (LENR type?), which, in turn, requires better understanding of nuclear physics, which, in turn, requires to shoot some «shut-up and calculate» guys.

Not every building has a flat roof, or one that's so load bearing.

It's just expenses, not a challenge.

Can an architect add a comment on that, please?

Forget electric. That's just a gimmick that allows these companies to say "in five to ten years because batteries." Prove it. Make a gas powered one to prove your concept. The simplest flying machine is probably an autogyro. Automate that for point to point transport, show the automation, redundancy, and safety for urban use. Solve those real issues and then we can talk about fancy designs.

Electric is a game changer for popular aviation. Why? Because aviation has (fortunately) very strict safety standards. So the aviation version of common car engines are vastly more expensive than their car counterparts. They also require expensive maintenance regularly. Electric engines are mostly maintenance-free, and the biggest point is, you can have any number of electrical engines on your aircraft - the common drone has 4 independent engines, and people-carrying crafts can have 10 or more, basically eliminating any reliability related safety concerns.

People put common car engines on aircraft all the time. The problem is that "certified" aircraft engines are expensive due to that designation (think regulatory capture). There are several cheap auto-engine options for homebuilts. Maintenance can be done by the builder for homebuilts too. The costs are almost completely due to the small market size.

I agree with you that electric motors are awesome (they're what I do) and you're right that you can easily put 2-4 of them on a fairly conventional aircraft for amazing redundancy.

The problem with the quad-rotor configuration is that the motors are doing all the work. With real wings you get a better lift to power ratio but you also lose VTOL capability.

Having said all that, I'd still like to see a small short field aircraft automated to the point that the general public could use it.

>You lose VTOL

Joby and Zee are using wings plus VTOL. They shut down the VTOL rotors for level flight.

That could actually be awesome. Use electric motors in a drone type configuration for VTOL and then just use a gas engine for cruising.

How is an autogyro simpler than a fixed wing aircraft? The both have a motor, and on one of them the wings have to move.

>> How is an autogyro simpler than a fixed wing aircraft?



Sure looks simpler. You also get short field takeoff and vertical landing.

How about a roadable one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CajAq6ndJYE

Lower stall speed

From the article:

"This kind of design wouldn’t work with conventional aircraft engines because 10 engines would be way too heavy. But electric motors can be made extremely small and light, allowing even a car-size vehicle to have 10 of them."

But batteries are a significant source of weight.

Look, you can't simply build a mini-plane with 10 combustion engines. It's a design you can't bootstrap powered with gas and migrate to electrical later.

You also can't put combustion engines in the end of small actuators, like it's on the article.

10 is overkill. You might try two: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knb3qNq-Uho

The benefit of electric is the ability to very quickly alter thrust for that quad-rotor type of control.

Gas requires fuel and exhaust pipes, and is only efficient at some engine sizes. Electric, you can hang anywhere on the airframe, at many sizes. It's quiet, requires for urban VTOL. Distributed propulsion also lets you run props out of phase for noise canceling.

Do they ever successfully do anything with the things they develop? Or just buy successful companies?

They're wacky moonshot ideas sorta ring of the boy who cried wolf at this point. they never live up to the hype.

So why the desire to have a VTOL car right now? The capability to do affordable commuter air is almost in reach and we already have aircraft in the certification pipeline that can fly 2 people on electricity alone for about an hour (see Pipistrel Alpha Electro and Airbus E-Fan). VTOL is something we've been working on for decades and still have issues with reliability (MV-22/F-35 anyone?) but airplanes are inherently stable and incredibly simple once you have a power plant that doesn't suck. If you want to know why GA has been lagging so hard, just about every plane you see has a $30k, 10gph, 258lb, lead guzzling O-360 in it that dates back from the 1930s. And yes, we still use leaded gas (100LL).

Interesting title considering the article's as much about Uber and battery efficiency a la Tesla as it is Larry Page.

I'm still curious about how highways for these types of aircraft will be implemented. I imagine the goal is ubiquity and at some point, with thousands of these things flying around, flight paths will be the bottleneck.

Probably the same way they are for planes- victor airways.


could be VTOL

http://moller.com/ - this project seems dead =( hopefully either I'm wrong or something more interesting takes its place

It's not just dead, they've yet to perform untethered flight on any of their prototypes. The Terrafugia Transition is an example of a far more practical form of "flying car"

Why does it need to be an entire car. I just want a drone I can hook a seat into with a range of 10-20 miles. Is that impossible? Lifting 200 pounds for 20 miles is probably doable with current technology right?

I did a bit of sleuthing on this project a while ago. Based on what I could find, here's what they're working at:

VTOL plane with 8ish electric fans

Hybrid gas/electric

Rotary engine in back for charging batteries and longer flights.

A lot of the critical comments I see here are addressed the Uber paper (https://www.uber.com/elevate.pdf) which is a really interesting read.

The cusp of their argument is that several technologies are coming together to make VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) feasible within the next decade. VTOL aircrafts are theoretically much more energy efficient than helicopters, and a lot of the cost associated with planes is due to their low production volume. If a company like Uber started to use VTOL aircrafts, the price would rapidly decline to closer to what cars cost now, and the cost of a flight would be low enough that more than just the wealthy could use them.

I hope it's not Uber pioneer this movement.

Uber showed that they are not willing to comply public agency on regulation-related restrictions. VTOL vehicles, they are more dangerous than cars. Uber's attitude, when handling such technologies, make me scared.

The FAA is an entirely different animal than municipal codes backing taxis. Uber's 'easier to get forgiveness than permission' model will not fly with the FAA.

huh, it looks like he might be under the mistaken impression that he's actually pouring it into small airplanes, as was I after reading the article.

A self-piloting VTOL small airplane is about the nearest thing we will get from a flying car in a long while.

sure, in the same way the pancakes I am going to make for breakfast is the closest thing I am going to have to waffles today but if someone is going to ask me what I had for breakfast I won't tell them 'waffles'.

These will only be toys, and here's why: fuel efficiency (or lack thereof) per passenger. Good luck getting over 2 MPG considering having to haul around bits to meet both road and aircraft regs, fuel and passenger. Plus, do we really want to rehash the already decidedly terrible prospects of making average distracted/intoxicated/uncoordinated people into pilots? Give up lusting over Peter Thiel's science fiction pipedreams and move onto solving real problems like breaking dependence on fossil fuels or sequestering greenhouse gases.

So he can fly over, and get a closer look at, people living in RVs on the street just a few miles from where his employees eat free steak and sushi every day.

Like the Chavez family, for example:


Why would the VTOL miniplanes described in the article be better than small helicopters, which take off the same way?

Planes are way more energy efficient in normal forward flight. And electric multicopters, like the popular camera drones, you don't need much of the mechanics of a traditional helicopter.

Pilot training time.

At the Hiller Museum in San Mateo one of the docents was talking about how helicopters seem so great but they are so hard to fly with the pilot managing rotor pitch, rotor speed, and countering torque with the tail rotor. A typical quad/hexa/octo copter type vehicle is much easier to fly. (as is a gyrocopter but it cannot really take off vertically)

>A typical quad/hexa/octo copter type vehicle is much easier to fly

They're easier to fly because they have software providing artificial stability. If you had to control each rotor individually it would be virtually impossible. There's no reason in principle why a helicopter couldn't have similarly straightforward controls.

Yes, I've wondered that.

Why not provide a joystick for translation motion, rudder pedals for rotation, and a lever for ascending and descending? Allow the human to provide simple inputs, like: tilt the stick forward to go forward. No other inputs required. Aircraft will remain at the same altitude while it tilts forward and gains airspeed.

The computer consumes all of these controls, understands what the human wants to do, and then makes the necessary low-level adjustments. I suppose one obstacle to this plan is that the helicopter would need to be entirely fly-by-wire, and there would be no fallback to manual control. This would likely make the helicopter more complex and expensive.

Helicopters do have sophisticated automatic flight control systems. A brief blurb describing some aspects:


aerodynamic stability to glide down to emergency landing area should problem arise.

more power efficient in cruise flight.

Helicopters can land without power (autorotate) or if the tail rotator fails.


Helicopters are actually safer (than some set of airplanes that might include a bunch of recreational planes), because if something breaks, it's easier to find a place to land.

Yeah, I know a helicopter pilot, I was shocked when he told me that. Would love to hear a aviation enthusiast compare safety differences and failure modes between helicopter autorotation and plane glide...

I respectfully disagree with the other comment who said he'd rather take a helicopter. (I'm a private pilot of fixed-wing aircraft.)

For General Aviation safety, read the Joseph T. Nall report: https://www.aopa.org/-/media/files/aopa/home/training-and-sa...

To summarize, helicopters and airplanes enjoy a reasonably similar lethality. Approximately 15-20% of accidents (total) are fatal to one or more occupants. However, if you break it down to fatal-accidents-per-100,000-hours then helicopters are worse (1.5 vs 1.0) at least in 2013.

When it comes to general aviation safety, however, the far and away most important factor is the pilot. Unless you get damned unlucky, the vast majority of accidents are either avoidable or survivable if the pilot doesn't do something wrong. In helicopters, a controlled autorotation will be survivable most of the time. In airplanes, a controlled forced landing is the same.

Of course, you can have your cake and eat it too -- I recently purchased a Cirrus SR22-TN (airplane) which has a Ballistic Recovery System aka a parachute. If anything goes wrong you can pull the chute and the entire airplane will descend to the ground. :-)

The regulations required to make flying cars work at scale would be the end of recreational flying as we know it. Fortunately, it's not going to happen anytime soon.

I am not a pilot, but have talked extensively with them and we have some planes in the family. MUCH better to autorotate land a helicopter than to glide land a plane, for a myriad of reasons. Autorotating heli landings result in a bit of a rougher bump upon landing, but otherwise are no big deal. Crash landing a plane is obviously different and results in destroying the aircraft and, likely, people inside.

Yeah, I was an aerospace engineer at a helicopter company for eight years. They practiced autorotation landings (full engine shut off) every day, outside my office. They were non-events.

Both are survivable, but in general a helicopter autorotation is much less forgiving. (source: I have a private helicopter pilot license)

In a airplane, a loss of engine power translates to slowing down. If you're on top of things, you will notice this and nose-down in order to maintain airspeed. If you fail to notice this, your airplane will stall, but even that can be recovered from by nosing down in time.

In a helicopter when you lose power this translates very quickly (with 4-5 seconds) into loss of rotor RPM. Within 1-2 seconds you must change the angle of the blades in order to enter the autorotation configuration - if your rotor speed drops below a certain RPM before you make this change, you drop out of the sky with no chance of recovery. Making this an automatic reaction is a big part of helicopter pilot training.

Once you have entered autorotation/glide, the next challenge is finding a suitable place to land. In both cases you ideally need a flat hard open surface, though airplanes generally need a longer area than helicopters. Unfortunately a helicopter has a very poor glide ratio - ~5:1 (5 feet horizontal for 1 ft vertical) while a light airplane has something like ~9:1 glide ratio. Furthermore most helicopters cruse at much lower altitudes (1K-3K ft above ground level) vs. light airplanes cruising 4K-8K ft AGL). So you end up having 1/2 to 1/4 the time and distance to find a suitable landing site.

When it comes to the actual landing itself, gliding vs autorotation are different but one is not necessarily more dangerous than the other. In both cases you have a well-defined set of ideal airspeeds, descent rates, etc. which will lead to everyone surviving the experience. And in both cases you don't earn your pilot license until you have demonstrated that you can consistently do this correctly.

One more nuance - light airplanes (eg: Cessnas) are easier to glide than heavier/faster airplanes because everything happens slower. Since light airplanes are also the cheapest to operate, they are most often found in the hands of new/inexperienced pilots - it is good that they are forgiving.

Meanwhile light helicopters like the Robinson R22 are actually much more difficult to autorotate than larger/heavier helicopters - everything happens faster and is less stable. Unfortunately since these helicopters happen to be the cheapest to operate, they also very often find themselves in the hands of new/inexperienced pilots. This was such a big problem that there is a special piece of federal aviation regulation (SFAR 73) which puts additional training requirements on pilots specifically for the Robinson R22 and R44 models.

In the big picture though, general aviation is incredibly safe. The vast majority of non-commercial accidents can be attributed to some form of human error - either poor pilot judgment or lax adherence to maintenance requirements.

I’d guess speed and prop redundancy

energy efficiency.

These companies are trying to produce something that already exists: The Ultralight Aircraft. Ultralights are cheap, require little training, and no licensing to operate. HOWEVER, they're @#$%ing slow, and aren't practical as a means of transportation because you can get places faster in car.

I believe that something like a self-guided human-size quadcopter is safer than a helicopter and that will start to take up some of the luxury helicopter transport market.

People seem to be arguing that helicopters are safer. I'm not an aerodynamics expert, but my intuition tells me that will be proven wrong eventually. They just are misjudging a newish way of doing things. Anyway, I don't see any point in arguing about it. Eventually the drones will get bigger and bigger and someone will have the balls to allow it to be tested properly. And eventually people will catch on.

Larry Page receives millions every week through automatic sales of his Google stock. I'd guess this project is for impressing his buddy Richard Branson and any other star he'd like to hang out with.

"German says battery technology isn’t quite there yet. He predicts the energy density of batteries will need to approximately double for small electric airplanes to really take off."

I'm curious if more propellers add redundancy in emergencies or if the added number of failure points will show not to be worth it.

I'm curious, why hasn't anyone worked with ground effect vehicles (things like wing-in-plane) in an urban setting. It seems like commuting from South SF <-> Mountain View would be greatly smoothed by introducing GEVs without a ridiculous cost.

The hardest problem is going to be noise, and electric propulsion is not the solution. Rotating blades are very effective noise generators, and the only alternative we have to rotating blades in some form or other are rockets.

The "lots of small propellers" VTOL approach for all practical purposes needs an large area of land anyway. There is no way any neighbours would tolerate the epic levels of noise such a scheme produces.

On the plus side: flying cars actually exist while self-driving ones do not.

Why can't we use small helicopters as flying cars? Is it because economics make the idea infeasible? If that's so then why the current ideas will be better?

I've been wondering something similar - why is it that we have all these GPS-controlled self-flying stabilized quadcopters using cheap chinese microcontrollers, but a lack of mini-helicopters using the same technology. Is it that much more difficult to computer-control? Or are the more complicated mechanics just "not worth it" when you can just build a quadcopter instead?

The next step from automated selfdriving cars could be flying cars. I wouldn't trust a million idiots flying but if it's AI it would probably be safer.1

Why only 4, 8 or 12 rotors? Can a group of much smaller rotors replace the thrust a single bigger one produces? Would add a lot more redundancy and limit the costs.

Yes. You can sum rotor areas to add up to same as one big rotor.

Well, let him not stop pouring millions into Google Fiber.

I was thinking of a quadcopter taxi design that could be designed to protect the passenger in the event they fell from many stories. Something that would suspend the single rider's seat in the center of the cockpit from cables attached to the shell. Whatever the best design for the classic 'egg drop' test would probably be a good start.

If you could guarantee survival from terminal velocity I think a drone taxi could become a viable mode of transport.

Anyone else remember the Moller 400? And the issue of Popular Mechanics that was devoted to it?


One flying car, capable of moving 4 x 100 kg (passengers and baggage).

One self-piloting feature, allowing (or mandating) autonomous movement to the destination.

One timing device and detonator.

400Kg of whatever kind of explosives you can get.

Behold: Uber's cruise missile.

Come to think of it, you can probably load up a lot more payload for less money in a ground vehicle.

We drive in two dimensions, it's about time we explored the third one.

The success of SillyCon Valley has mostly been from companies with close ties to the government that commercialize black and gray ops technology.

We can only hope that the next two technologies scheduled for public availability are permanent batteries and antigravity.

>flying cars

Is Larry going to be the first billionaire mental asylim patient?

This could turn into a Clive Sinclair obsession with his car!

Autonomous air is way easier than autonomous ground.

For the love of God, make something affordable (50's? 60's?) and I'd buy one in a snap... my daily commute is PITA and sore nead of drone'ification.

I think you mean soar need. :-)

AeroMobil already has working prototype

Because he can.

That's the only answer.

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