What comes after the flying car? A self-flying car
AeroMobil is already wowing people with a prototype of a flying car. But over the next decade, it wants to give new meaning to the term "autopilot."
Richard NievaFormer senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
AUSTIN, Texas -- AeroMobil, a startup from Slovakia, is already making sci-fi lore a reality: the company has made a prototype of a flying car. But that's not enough for the company. The next thing it has on its roadmap for the coming decade? A self-flying car.
AeroMobil has built a hybrid car and plane that can unfurl its wings and take off when it has a grass runway of about 800 feet. The idea is that someone could take a trip of about 500 miles and not have to switch vehicles, which cuts out waiting in airports. But the company eventually wants to make it so the driver doesn't even have to operate the thing. (As part of the current vision, the person at the wheel would also need a pilot's license for once the vehicle takes flight.)
The company stressed that it's still for now focused on developing the first prototype -- which needs a human at the controls -- but that it wants the next version to be automated. AeroMobil is a finalist at the South by Southwest Interactive Innovation Awards, which will take place Tuesday here, at the tech, film and music festival.
"Maybe 10 years from now, it needs to be automated," said Stefan Vodocz, the company's chief communications officer. "With an algorithm, it would be managed much better by a computer than by man."
Cars are the current fascination of the technology industry. Google is famously hard at work on a self-driving car (an earthbound one) that it wants to take to market in the next five years. Apple is also reportedly developing its own car. Google and Apple also have platforms that bring their mobile operating systems into car dashboards. Meanwhile, Tesla has helped to popularize the electric car.
AeroMobil, which was founded in 2010, unveiled the most current version of the prototype, called the Flying Roadster, in October. The company wants to eventually commercialize the product, and not just leave it in the realm of academic experiments. But AeroMobil knows it has an uphill battle in overcoming regulations and legislation. (Google, for example, has been working with the Department of Motor Vehicles as it tests its driverless car.)
"We need to somehow deal with 100 years of bureaucracy in the air, and 100 years of bureaucracy on the road," said Juraj Vaculik, AeroMobil's CEO.
The company envisions a future where gas stations double as airfields where cars can legally take off. In less-developed countries, AeroMobil hopes governments can spend less on infrastructure like roads. The prototype took 10 months to make, Vadcocz said, though the company wouldn't specify how much it cost to produce.
Vaculik is aware of the challenges but thinks the flying car is an inevitability. He points to a quote from Henry Ford in 1940: "Mark my words: a combination airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come."