Future Cars

Automakers, aerospace and startups are banking on a 'flying car' future

From Silicon Valley to Toyota City, companies from across the globe are setting their sights skyward for future mobility.

Rolls-Royce

Autonomous technology is moving us closer to the lofty flying-car future that we've been dreaming about for the past century. What does autonomous tech have to do with flying cars? Computing power.

A decade ago, autonomous tech was too weak to support the complexity of functions required to safely keep a network of vertical-take-off-and-landing (VTOL) vehicles in the air.

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Today, however, companies are developing the sensor and processing power that can support a fully autonomous flying vehicle. Although some cost and regulatory issues remain, the continued development of autonomy is important to personal aerial transport. That's because without the computers responsible for flying, you'd have to spend weeks and thousands of dollars to get an FAA Sport license, which runs counter to the mass-market ambitions of companies entering the flying-car space.

So the flying car is no longer just an idea full of hot air. It's now a potential business opportunity. Advances in electric propulsion are only making it hotter. As batteries ripen toward greater power density and lower cost, they become an even stronger argument against more costly and complex fuel-powered props and turbines.

The Aston Martin Volante Vision Concept arguably leads the pack in flying-car design.

Aston Martin

When we say 'flying car'...

By the way, "flying car" doesn't mean what you think it means. 

Roadshow's editor in chief, Tim Stevens, said it best: "The term 'flying car' [is] slang for something that will never happen." A vehicle's wheels, axles and transmission are encumbrances in flight, so the ideal "flying car" will more closely resemble a drone, and have none of those dead-weight items.

Consequently, most of the industry is moving in this direction, and all of the vehicles listed in this roundup are VTOL machines that resemble electric-powered, human-transporting aircraft or drones rather than cars. Even the Terrafugia TF-X, the successor to the Geely-backed startup's first flying-car attempt, the Terrafugia Transition, eschews the user-drivable-plane design for something more drone-inspired.

Here's a look six of the most noteworthy and promising "flying cars" that are poised to change the personal transportation industry as we know it.

Opener Blackfly

Arguably the most exciting flying car that could end up populating the skies, the Opener Blackfly could go on sale as early as 2019.

Opener

The Opener Blackfly, one of the most promising VTOL aircraft, is germinating out of the passions of a Silicon Valley startup. Kind of reminds you of Tesla, doesn't it?

Provided the numbers behind it pencil, this company's eight-rotor Blackfly VTOL machine could be the biggest disrupter to the personal mobility market since the Bird scooter -- mainly because of its price.

Blackfly inventor Marcus Leng recently told CBS News that his autonomous electric aircraft will cost only as much as an SUV. But unlike a typical Chevy Tahoe, the Blackfly can only seat one. At 25 miles, the range is short, too. But since the company is targeting a price most people can afford, I wouldn't be surprised to catch a glimpse of the Blackfly overhead within the next few years if the FAA decides to pick up its foot-dragging pace.

Right now, Blackfly's biggest hurdle is arguably FAA regulations, which confine it to nonurban, daylight-only flight. Bureaucratic barriers and some missing production puzzle pieces aside, this could hit the market as early as 2019. And once it's out, a buyer would theoretically need only about 5 minutes of training before they could fly the friendly skies.

Unlike many of the flying cars listed here, Opener is not backed by an automaker or a large corporation. According to the company's website, "Opener is well-funded and will not be seeking additional investors for the foreseeable future." That's probably because Google co-founder Larry Page is backing the company, in addition to being the founder of flying-car startup Kitty Hawk.

Alan Eustace, former Senior Vice President of Knowledge at Google, and the world-record holder for highest-altitude free-fall jump (135,889 feet), is also one of Opener's technical advisors. It appears, then, that Opener is in good hands.

Rolls-Royce EVTOL Concept

The Rolls-Royce EVTOL Concept pairs a gas turbine with a battery to allow for a targeted 500-mile range at a cruising speed of 250 mph.

Rolls-Royce

Mention the name "Rolls-Royce" to most people, and their minds will sparkle with thoughts of hyperluxury cars. But there's another Rolls-Royce that fewer people are aware of: the multibillion-dollar, civil- and defense-aerospace company. This Rolls-Royce has its hands in power systems as well as the nuclear and marine industries.

Back in 1998, Rolls-Royce plc (the aerospace company) sold BMW Group the rights to use the Rolls-Royce name, badge and legendary Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament for automotive use. From that came the establishment of the BMW Group subsidiary Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited.

But now the Rolls-Royce aerospace company is playing in the car sector again -- albeit the flying-car segment. And we can't help but get excited about its forthcoming EVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) aircraft.

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The EVTOL will be able to carry up to five passengers, much like a standard SUV. But it's likely that the price will be orders of magnitude more expensive than your typical crossover. Expected to get off the ground by the early part of next decade, this VTOL craft is turbine-powered, but not in the way you'd expect. Instead of propelling, the EVTOL's turbine acts as a generator that provides power to six electric props. The configuration means a 500-mile range -- 20 times that of the Opener Blackfly. Rolls-Royce says the top speed could top 250 mph.

The EVTOL seems poised to augment commercial air travel instead of replacing your daily commuter, but even so, a product rollout such as this could make the infrastructural nightmare of high-speed rail a thing of the past.

Aston Martin Volante Vision Concept

The Aston Martin Volante Vision Concept was developed in conjunction with Cranfield University and Rolls-Royce -- the aerospace company, not the automaker.

Aston Martin

Easily the best-looking VTOL machine in this lineup, the Aston Martin Volante Vision Concept cranks its good looks to 11. Perhaps that's unsurprising, as pretty much everything that Aston Martin designs today is devastatingly stylish.

Rolls-Royce and Cranfield University (the same school that helped get the Siemens Mustang -- just about -- up the hill at Goodwood) worked with Aston Martin to develop this three-seater aircraft. There's no word yet on when we could see this beautifying our skies, but armed with electric propulsion and autonomous capability, expect a rollout in step with the Opener Blackfly and the Rolls-Royce EVTOL.

Porsche's 'Flying Sports Car'

Wouldn't it be cool if flying cars could look just like this airborne Porsche 911 GT3 RS?

Andrew Hoyle/Roadshow

Back in March, Roadshow broke the news that Porsche was working on a "flying sports car." Months later, details about this future vehicle remain scarce. Even though we've yet to see a concept in the flesh, we still find this promising for two reasons: First of all, because Porsche. And also because the words "flying sports car" are just as exciting as the words "free ice cream."

Porsche envisions a fully autonomous machine that, under limited conditions, could be flown by its pilot for his or her own pleasure, the latter of which fits the Porsche ethos to a T.

As we reported earlier this year, the flying sports car's development is still budding, so countless questions remain. We've yet to learn key details such as propulsion type or passenger capacity, but this project falls under Porsche's Strategy 2025, which offers a hint as to when the flying sports car will be closer to taking flight.

Terrafugia TF-X

The TF-X is Terrafugia's VTOL successor to the Transition, the firm's first "flying car."

Terrafugia

To our knowledge, Volvo has yet to begin work on a flying car, but the Swedish brand's familial ties to flying vehicle company Terrafugia could make development work easier for Volvo should it choose to bring its automotive business to new heights.

Since November of 2017, Volvo and Terrafugia have been linked by their parent company, the Chinese car giant Geely. Terrafugia's Transition, which was unveiled in 2009, is slated to finally hit production in 2019, but you'll still need a pilot's license if you want to take it to the air. Because of that limitation, it fails to make our list of flying cars that seem poised to shake up this nascent industry.

However, Terrafugia is currently developing the TF-X, a VTOL craft that, unlike the Transition, is designed to not require an airport or a pilot's license. Instead you'll need a 100-foot-diameter clearing and a regular driver's license. Like Porsche's flying sports car, the TF-X is also early in its development, but we do know some key specs.

Terrafugia says the TF-X will run on unleaded fuel that will power electric motor pods for a range of 500 miles. Cruise speed is a projected 200 mph. And, like the Transition, the TF-X will also be small enough to fit into a single parking space or your garage.

It won't be cheap, though. Terrafugia says "the price will be consistent with high-end luxury cars." Even if that's the case, it's interesting to imagine Terrafugia slapping a Volvo badge on one of these to grant the TF-X access to Volvo's established dealer and service network -- thus easing the purchasing and after-sale experience. Granted, servicing aircraft is nothing like servicing cars, but a scenario like this could be one step toward Terrafugia's mass-market integration.

Toyota Flying Car

Toyota-backed SkyDrive may help light the Olympic torch to open the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Cartivator

Even automotive giant Toyota is hedging its bets and investing in a possible flying-car future. According to USA Today, the automaker just invested almost $400,000 into Cartivator Resource Management. Cartivator is an ambitious startup that hopes to finish a flying car just in time to lift up a torch lighter at Tokyo's Summer Olympics in 2020.

From the looks of it, Cartivator Resource Management is going to need all the Toyota cash it can get. With basketballs for landing gear, early prototype tests have looked a lot like a college engineering experiment gone wrong.

Little is known about the manned aerial vehicle that could end up assisting the torch lighting in 2020. It's also not clear whether that specific flying vehicle will be offered for public consumption. But Toyota's involvement is another reason why flying-car skeptics should sit up and take notice.

Honorable mentions

Uber has already revolutionized the way people move around cities, but now the ridesharing mobility company is looking to lift that strategy into the sky with Uber Elevate. Uber was omitted from this list because its strategy goes beyond just introducing a vehicle. The firm says it has "assembled a network of partners that include vehicle manufacturers, real estate developers, technology developers and more," including a partnership with NASA. It seems to us that Uber's efforts may only help hasten the rollout of the six vehicles mentioned above.

Airbus and Audi's attempt at a flying car currently exists only in CGI, as the video above demonstrates, but they're also working on more than just the rollout. Instead, the aircraft and automobile manufacturers aim to use autonomous flying cars to carve out a good chunk of the time it takes to arrive home after landing at an airport.

The Airbus-Audi collaboration appears to be much more complex than the flying-car projects I've listed above. But the German city of Ingolstadt recently signed a letter of intent supporting Airbus and Audi's flying-car partnership. That should go a long way toward getting the ball rolling on breaking down bureaucratic barriers to flight.

Talk of flying cars has been around since airplanes and road-bound motor vehicles first became a reality. But now, thanks to computing power, sensor tech and improvements in other aerospace technologies, this Jetsons-like vision of the future seems more attainable than ever.