First Street-Legal Flying Car : ASKA A5 by Silicon Valley’s NFT Inc
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Silicon Valley-based NFT Inc.'s ASKA A5 has made a leap in the realm of flying cars.
The model recently received a street-legal status from the California DMV and, in a separate breakthrough, the FAA also approved its flight testing under certain limitations. The ASKA A5, with its foldable wings, combines the functionalities of a car and an aircraft. It's an electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) vehicle that can accommodate up to three passengers and a pilot.
Despite its remarkable advancements, ASKA A5, like other flying cars, faces significant regulatory hurdles before it can enter full-fledged commercial service.
MarketsandMarkets welcome this development and we take a look it in detail here.
The notion of flying cars, that once dwelt in the realm of science fiction, has, over the past decade, edged closer to reality. With a growing surge of investment and technological innovation, the early 2020s have been especially vibrant years for this burgeoning industry. Tech advances, such as improvements in battery technology, materials science, and autonomous flight control systems, have driven the flying car prototypes from the realm of wild speculation to tangible, albeit embryonic, realities.
A wave of startups and major companies, including AeroMobil, Terrafugia, Uber's Elevate team, and Joby Aviation, plunged into this venture with high enthusiasm. There were, of course, significant challenges along the way, and not all prototypes met their desired objectives. Uber's Elevate, for instance, was eventually sold to Joby Aviation in 2020 after it struggled to deliver on its lofty visions.
The year 2022 saw further advancements, particularly in electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) technology, with companies such as Volocopter and Lilium demonstrating successful test flights. However, the ambitious ASKA from NFT Inc. faced several technical issues, including efficiency and range concerns, which eventually led to substantial revisions of the vehicle's design.
In 2023, progress accelerated. The EHang 216, an autonomous aerial vehicle, was extensively trialed in China, and Airbus’ urban air mobility solution, CityAirbus NextGen, was announced with plans to begin operation in Europe by 2025. Investment was further bolstered by several high-profile backers such as Toyota, Intel, and SoftBank, expressing their belief in this transformative technology.
Public policies evolved alongside these developments, with governments acknowledging the need for a robust framework to guide this nascent industry. In the U.S., the FAA has taken a proactive role in laying out regulations for the integration of these flying vehicles into the national airspace.
Regulatory hurdles have, however, remained a substantial challenge. A complex web of safety, noise, air traffic management, and privacy concerns need to be addressed before flying cars can become an everyday reality. Regulations need to keep pace with technology, while ensuring safety and public acceptance. Though there have been considerable efforts in this direction, with FAA initiating regulatory sandboxes to streamline the integration of new entrants into the national airspace, the process is slow and meticulous.
As of mid-2023, a significant breakthrough occurred with the approval of Terrafugia's Transition, a roadable aircraft, by the FAA for recreational use. This is a substantial step towards mainstream acceptance, potentially paving the way for more flying car models to secure regulatory approval in the future.
This progress heralds an exciting era for flying cars, although there remains much work ahead. While the technology has made great strides, ensuring that it is safe, efficient, affordable, and, most importantly, acceptable to the public is the ultimate challenge that lies ahead. The coming years promise to be a thrilling ride as we move towards a future that, until recently, seemed relegated to the realm of science fiction.
Which flying cars have received regulatory approval?
Alef, a California-based aeronautics company, has made significant strides.
Their Armada Model Zero aircraft was granted a Special Airworthiness Certification by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on June 12, 2023. This allows the company to fly the car in specific, limited locations for purposes of exhibition, research, and development.
The Armada Model Zero, or Model A, as it's also known, is a pioneering project in this emerging field. As a street-legal vehicle, it can operate on roads and fit in standard parking spaces. Yet it's also capable of vertical takeoff and flight in any direction, boasting a flying range of 110 miles and a driving range of 200 miles. It's an all-electric vehicle with an optional, longer-range hydrogen variant.
This approval is an essential step towards mainstream acceptance of flying cars, although it's crucial to note that this doesn't equate to unrestricted use approval. The vehicle is yet to be produced and delivered, with a planned timeline pointing to late 2025. Alef is also looking ahead to a four-person sedan, aiming for release in 2035.
Regulatory approval of Alef's Model A represents progress, but it also underscores the challenges of fully integrating flying cars into our daily transportation system. It'll be fascinating to watch as this industry continues to evolve and adapt to these unique challenges in the coming years.
Are flying cars safe?
The safety of flying cars is a multifaceted issue that extends beyond just the technology itself. It involves various aspects, including the vehicle's design, the training and capability of the operators, the robustness of air traffic control systems, and the regulations governing their use – and other sets of concerns will arise as and when they start flying.
Flying cars are expected to be equipped with various safety systems. They would likely feature advanced navigation and control systems, redundancy in critical components like motors and propellers, parachutes for emergency landings, and collision avoidance systems. They would likely be operated within certain altitude and speed restrictions to minimize risks.
Many flying car concepts propose the use of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) technology, which would allow them to operate without the need for runways. This can add a degree of flexibility and safety since the vehicle could, theoretically, land safely in an emergency even if the engine fails.
Additionally, proponents argue that autonomy could increase the safety of flying cars by reducing human error, which is a significant factor in many road and aviation accidents. Autonomous systems could potentially manage the complexity of flying and navigating in three dimensions more effectively than human operators.
However, there are still significant challenges to ensuring the safety of flying cars. These include the need to develop robust air traffic control systems capable of handling increased air traffic within urban sky spaces, addressing the risks of mid-air collisions, battery failures, bad weather, and ensuring that operators are properly trained.
What are the commercial use cases of flying cars?
While there are promising applications, it's essential to note that there are still significant technical, regulatory, and infrastructural challenges to overcome before flying cars can be widely adopted for commercial use. This includes ensuring safety, developing air traffic management systems for increased low-altitude traffic, reducing noise, and securing public acceptance.
- Urban Air Mobility (UAM): One of the most frequently cited applications for flying cars is transforming urban commuting. Given the increasing congestion in many urban centers, flying cars could provide a fast, efficient alternative to traditional ground-based transport, significantly reducing travel times.
- Ride-Sharing Services: Companies like Uber had already begun planning for aerial ride-sharing networks before selling Uber Elevate to Joby Aviation. The idea is to create an aerial taxi service that would work similarly to current ride-sharing services but in three dimensions.
- Emergency Services: Flying cars could also play a crucial role in emergency medical services, including serving as air ambulances. They could be used to quickly transport patients or deliver medical supplies, especially in crowded urban environments or remote locations.
- Cargo and Delivery Services: Flying cars could revolutionize the logistics industry by enabling faster, more direct delivery of goods, particularly in hard-to-reach areas. This could include everything from small packages to larger cargo.
- Tourism and Recreation: In the tourism industry, flying cars could offer unique sightseeing experiences. Similarly, they could serve as a recreational vehicle for enthusiasts.
- Infrastructure Inspection and Maintenance: For tasks such as power line inspection, wind turbine maintenance, and similar activities, flying cars could offer a safer and more efficient alternative to current practices.
Which engineers have worked on developing flying cars?
Several notable engineers who have worked on flying cars:
- Sebastian Thrun: Known for his work with Google’s self-driving car project, Thrun is also the co-founder and CEO of Kitty Hawk Corporation, a company invested in making flying cars a reality. They've developed prototypes like the Flyer, an all-electric aircraft.
- Carl Dietrich: Dietrich is the co-founder of Terrafugia, a company focused on the development of practical flying cars. Their prototype, the Transition, is a roadable aircraft designed to be both a legal street car and a light sport aircraft.
- JoeBen Bevirt: Bevirt is the founder of Joby Aviation, a company developing electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft intended to be used as air taxis. The company has made significant progress in designing and testing their prototypes.
- Wim van Acker: Wim is one of the leading engineers at Lilium, a German aviation startup that has been developing an electric VTOL passenger jet. The company has been at the forefront of Europe's flying car developments.
- Robert J. Dingemanse: Dingemanse is the CEO and co-founder of PAL-V, a Dutch company that has developed a roadable aircraft. Their design, the PAL-V Liberty, is a combination of a car and an autogyro.
- Tomas Brødreskift: The CEO of Equator Aircraft, a Norwegian company that develops seaplanes. One of their projects, the P2 Xcursion, is a hybrid-electric seaplane that can be seen as a step towards a flying car concept.
- Alex Zosel & Stephan Wolf: Co-founders of Volocopter, a German aircraft manufacturer that is developing electric multirotor helicopters for the air taxi market.
What software enables and controls flying cars?
Overview of the types of software and systems that are crucial to enabling and controlling flying cars.
- Flight Control Systems: These software systems manage the vehicle's flight dynamics. They ensure the stability and control of the aircraft during flight, from takeoff to landing.
- Navigation Systems: Navigation software is used to plot the course of the aircraft, allowing it to navigate from point A to point B. This might involve GPS systems or other forms of satellite-based navigation.
- Collision Avoidance Systems: Flying cars will require advanced collision avoidance systems to prevent accidents. This is especially critical given the three-dimensional nature of air travel.
- Communication Systems: Communication software allows the flying car to interact with air traffic control and other aircraft. It may also provide real-time updates on weather conditions and other factors that could affect flight.
- Autonomous Control Systems: Many flying car concepts envision autonomous or semi-autonomous operation. Autonomous control systems involve complex algorithms that enable the vehicle to operate without human input.
- Sensor Integration: This software integrates data from various sensors (like LIDAR, radar, and cameras) to provide comprehensive awareness of the surrounding environment.
- Electric Propulsion and Battery Management Systems: Many flying cars are expected to be electrically powered. Therefore, software to control electric propulsion systems and manage battery life and performance is essential.
- Cybersecurity Software: With all of these digital systems, protecting against cyber threats is critical. This involves software to secure the vehicle's systems and data.
The software stack for a flying car will be a highly integrated, complex system that takes inputs from numerous sensors and controls the vehicle's various subsystems. While existing technologies from the aviation and automotive industries will be helpful, many aspects will require novel solutions. This is a challenging and active area of research and development.
Can a car driven on roads fly?
While a car driven on roads can also be designed to fly, there are significant challenges and considerations involved, especially when factoring in the need for vertical takeoff, lack of runway requirements, potential for mass adoption, and the outlook for the next three years.
The concept of a flying car has been around for decades, but the combination of advanced materials, improved battery technology, sophisticated computer systems, and the emergence of drone technology has brought us closer than ever to realizing this dream. However, significant hurdles remain before flying cars become a common sight, and it will likely be more than three years before they are adopted on a large scale.
Which companies are manufacturing flying cars?
- Terrafugia: A U.S. company that has developed the Transition, a roadable aircraft that can switch between driving and flying modes. It has received some regulatory approvals in the U.S.
- PAL-V: A Dutch company that has designed the Liberty, a gyroplane that can also operate as a car. It has also received regulatory approvals in Europe.
- AeroMobil: A Slovakian company that has developed a prototype of a flying car that can switch between being a car and a plane in a few minutes.
- Urban Aeronautics: An Israeli company focusing on developing flying cars, particularly for applications like air taxi and emergency services.
- Volocopter: A German company that is focusing on eVTOL (Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing) technology for air taxis.
- Ehang: A Chinese company that has developed autonomous aerial vehicles for passenger transport, logistics, and other applications.
- Joby Aviation: A U.S. company focusing on developing an electric air taxi service.
- Airbus: Through its Vahana project and other initiatives, Airbus is researching and developing flying cars and air taxis.
What is the capacity and other specifications of a flying car?
Let’s take a look at one for example.
PAL-V, a Dutch company, has developed two models of flying cars, the PAL-V Liberty Pioneer and PAL-V Liberty Sport, with key specifications highlighted on their website. These specifications include capacity and many other details related to performance both on the ground and in the air.
- Capacity: Both PAL-V models can carry two people, a driver/pilot and one passenger.
- Weight: The maximum takeoff weight for the PAL-V Liberty Pioneer is 910 kg, and for the Liberty Sport, it is 900 kg.
- Dimensions: In driving mode, the PAL-V Liberty has a length of 4 meters, a width of 2 meters, and a height of 1.7 meters. In flight mode, the length extends to 6.1 meters due to the extended tail, while the height increases to 3.2 meters due to the raised rotor mast.
- Engine and Fuel: The PAL-V Liberty is powered by dual engines, one for driving and another for flying. It uses regular unleaded gasoline, with a fuel capacity of 100 liters.
- Performance: On the road, the PAL-V Liberty can reach a top speed of up to 160 km/h (99 mph) with a range of up to 1315 km (about 817 miles). In the air, it can reach a maximum speed of 180 km/h (112 mph) with a range of up to 500 km (about 311 miles), depending on the model.
- Takeoff and Landing: The PAL-V Liberty requires a runway for takeoff and landing. The minimum takeoff distance is 180 meters (590 feet), and the minimum landing distance is 30 meters (98 feet).
- Elevation: The maximum altitude the PAL-V Liberty can reach is 3500 meters (approximately 11,480 feet).
- Luggage Space: The PAL-V Liberty has a luggage compartment that can carry up to 20 kg of luggage.
- Transition Time: The PAL-V Liberty can switch between driving and flying modes in 5-10 minutes.
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