THE FU­TURE OF UR­BAN TRAVEL

Pre­pare to say farewell to traf­fic and travel times on the road in favour of wide, open skies and aerial views of the world be­low, writes Kate Pow­ell.

Signature Travel & Lifestyle - - Highflyer -

Fi­nally re­trieved from fan­tas­ti­cal vi­sions of the fu­ture, the fly­ing car is on its way to re­al­ity. Key in­flu­encers and air­craft car­ri­ers are rac­ing to bring the first sus­tain­able, ac­ces­si­ble and low-noise ve­hi­cle for ev­ery­day air travel to the world, with the new ver­ti­cal take-off and land­ing (VTOL) and short take-off and land­ing (STOL) tech­nolo­gies break­ing ground.

While some man­u­fac­tur­ers have fo­cused on the con­vert­ible car-to-plane con­cept – en­abling driv­ers to pri­vately own what is es­sen­tially a per­sonal mini­jet and mo­tor car – oth­ers are work­ing to­wards au­to­mated, self-pi­lot­ing jets that might travel from rooftop to rooftop, aban­don­ing roads com­pletely.

Many such con­cepts are the re­sult of rideshare mam­moth Uber’s an­nounce­ment that it will en­deav­our to op­er­ate a fly­ing taxi ser­vice in ma­jor cities by 2020, re­sult­ing in a fast­mov­ing sprint among tech­no­log­i­cal vi­sion­ar­ies to es­tab­lish them­selves as no­table play­ers in this land­mark event.

Part car, part plane In both STOL and VTOL, en­gi­neers also pri­ori­tise fac­tors such as speed, travel dis­tances and pas­sen­ger or pi­lot al­lowances. STOL rep­re­sents the more im­me­di­ately achiev­able and, although re­quir­ing a short run­way, is a fea­ture of some of the few con­cepts cur­rently of­fer­ing both mo­tor car and air travel ca­pa­bil­i­ties. One of the first is Samson Mo­tors, whose Switch­blade Fly­ing Sports Car trav­els at speeds of up to 200 kilo­me­tres per hour on the ground and is ex­pected to cost US$120,000 when it be­comes avail­able this year. More ef­fi­cient in en­ergy con­sump­tion than most he­li­copters or per­sonal drones, the AeroMo­bil 4.0 STOL is an­other such ve­hi­cle. Its aero­dy­namic, car­bon-com­pos­ite con­struc­tion de­liv­ers all the strength and per­for­mance of its fu­tur­is­tic de­sign, while the in­te­rior boasts stylish moder­nity in its in­te­gra­tion of struc­tural car­bon and fine leather. More than con­cep­tual, the 4.0 STOL is al­ready in ac­tion, with the com­pany plan­ning to pro­duce just 500 units val­ued at US$1.2 mil­lion each, avail­able in 2020.

VTOL takes off How­ever, STOL is rapidly mak­ing way for game-changing VTOL tech­nolo­gies as ver­ti­cal take-off aban­dons the need for a run­way and cre­ates the pos­si­bil­ity of pas­sen­ger take-off from ur­ban rooftops. AeroMo­bil has it­self al­ready un­veiled the con­cept for its VTOL en­deav­our, the 5.0 VTOL, which will be an elec­tric four-seater fly­ing taxi rep­re­sent­ing the first and only VTOL to also drive on the road. It is ex­pected to travel up to 700 kilo­me­tres in a sin­gle journey, and is an­tic­i­pated to be avail­able in the next seven to 10 years.

Although lack­ing this trans­for­ma­tive abil­ity be­tween road and flight, other bud­ding VTOL craft en­vi­sioned to travel ex­clu­sively by air of­fer some ad­van­tages of their own. With nearly 50 years of ex­pe­ri­ence build­ing air­craft, Air­bus’ con­tri­bu­tion to fly­ing cars has per­haps been a defining event in the con­cept’s con­crete fu­ture. The A3 by Air­bus’ Va­hana is all-elec­tric and self­pi­loted, and an­nounced the suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion of its first full-scale flight test ear­lier this year. Google co­founder Larry Page has also staked a claim in the fu­ture of per­sonal mo­bil­ity in Kitty Hawk’s elec­tric VTOL, Cora, which is set to be fully au­ton­o­mous and seat two pas­sen­gers. Elec­tri­cally pow­ered, Cora trav­els at up to 150 kilo­me­tres per hour and has a range of ap­prox­i­mately 100 kilo­me­tres on a sin­gle charge.

How­ever, these im­pres­sive air­craft may be over­shad­owed by the Lil­ium Jet, su­pe­rior for those seek­ing trans­port that pri­ori­tises speed or pas­sen­ger al­lowance. It boasts a 300-kilo­me­tre range and, at 300 kilo­me­tres per hour, flies at the speed of a For­mula One car car­ry­ing up to five pas­sen­gers. Its tech­nol­ogy makes less noise than a motorbike and has al­lowed the air­craft to la­bel it­self as com­pletely emis­sion-free. These con­cepts are in­tended to be avail­able through pub­lic fly­ing taxi ser­vices, rather than as pri­vately owned ve­hi­cles.

Which­ever con­cept one might pre­fer, the race is sure to be a mile­stone in the realm of tech­no­log­i­cal evo­lu­tion, fi­nally rep­re­sent­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able, pri­vate trans­port con­cept that sac­ri­fices noth­ing in style, el­e­gance and com­fort.

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