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Posted on June 01, 2016 by Dr Peter Harrop

Flying cars: needed or possible? Part two

Energy Harvesting: Off-Grid MicroW to MegaW 2017

Combatting urban gridlock

Soon 70% of us will live in cities. Could other flying cars combat urban gridlock? This surely calls for near-silent vertical take-off. The pure electric German Volocopter does that. Cruising speed is up to 100kp/h; duration is 30 min with a range extender being considered for longer. It is exceptionally safe with hands-off stability, good wind resistance like a toy quadcopter and multiple redundancy.
 
Volocopter
Source IDTechEx photo of Volocopter slide
 
The much earlier-stage FlyKart concept is a smaller pure electric Personal Air Vehicle PAV also with only 30 minutes endurance and presumably with greater challenges of stability. It is a US-Australian collaboration well worth watching.
 
FlyKart concept
Source IDTechEx photo of FlyKart slide
 
The good news is that there are hundreds of ways to improve range of pure electric multirotor VTOL aircraft over coming years. On the other hand, the multirotor approach is inefficient compared to a true helicopter so overcoming the weaknesses of pure electric helicopters may also be a way forward. Hirobo of Japan is working on that but only for a single seater so far. None of these vehicles will be road legal. Likely improvements in lithium-ion batteries and, later, alternatives to them will make pure electric VTOL planes more and more commercially viable. Unfortunately, it will not lead to viable provision of pure electric vertical lift for anything like a four person road legal car within 10 years in our opinion. See IDTechEx reports, Lithium-ion Batteries 2016-2026 External Link and Advanced and Post Lithium-ion Batteries 2016-2026: Technologies, Markets, Forecasts External Link.

Hybrid VTOL

A strong parallel hybrid gives noise on take-off for your car-plane severely constraining the permitted operational time of day. Yes, some hybrid land vehicles start off in near-silent pure electric mode appreciated at night time but 0.5 MW for pure electric take off of a four person flying car is not practicable right now.
 
Probably a bigger new sector will be silent VTOL personal commuter aircraft flying at any time day or night. Urban planners are already starting to talk of banning cars. "They have no place in cities," as planner Innoz put it in the recent IDTechEx, "Electric Vehicles: Everything is Changing" conference in Berlin. We suspect that flying cars, if they come, will be a curiosity sell, not mainstream at least for the next 15 years.
 
Autonomous Vehicles Land, Water, Air 2017-2037
For the bigger picture see the new IDTechEx report, Electric Aircraft 2016-2026 External Link.
 
Perhaps the flying car is like the car that is a boat. Never a mass market. Of course we also have the amphibious plane in hybrid electric form as the Equator aircraft being developed in Norway and the prototype ICON A5 with a conventional Rotax engine in the USA. They are another story.
 
Top image: Volocopter