Category Archives: Automotive

6 Future Transportation Technologies That Will Change Transportation (and the Trucking Industry) Forever

By Adam Robinson Marketing Manager at Cerasis | Technology, Transportation

Modern transportation is currently experiencing major changes thanks to transformative transportation technologies. Although we’ve become accustomed to long international flights, jam-packed public transportation and diesel trucks that only get 20 mpg, the future of transportation promises to change all of that and much more — and it’s closer than many people realize. Let’s take a look at 6 transportation technologies sure to impact the trucking and transportation industries forever.

1. Self-Driving Automobiles

Self-driving automobiles are already here. They’re still undergoing the earliest stages of development and testing, but they’re already present on our nation’s roadways. Unfortunately, Uber recently suspended their tests after one of their vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona in March 2018. While this represents a significant setback in the progress of fully autonomous vehicles, developers remain optimistic about the future of this transportation technology.

2. Smart Cars

Many consumers already own smart vehicles. The exact definition of a smart car varies between manufacturers, dealers and individuals, but it generally describes a compact, fuel-efficient vehicle that utilizes new and innovative technology to make life easier for the driver and passengers.

In some cases, manufacturers are transitioning to electric or hybrid cars. This new generation of smart vehicles still has some challenges to overcome — such as the distance they’re able to travel between charges, the number of passengers they can hold and even the amount of trunk space — but they’re already common our nation’s streets and highways.

3. Next-Gen GPS Devices

GPS units are nothing new — they’ve been around for decades. The biggest difference when comparing modern GPS devices to earlier models is the amount of functionality seen in the newer hardware.

In the past, GPS devices were very limited. They could calculate total mileage and provide an estimated time of arrival to a final location — but that was about it.

Today’s GPS units are much more versatile. Not only do they fulfill the basic functionality of planning a trip, but they can make adjustments for extreme weather, traffic conditions or even your preferred route.

4. Transportation Technologies will Impact Public Transportation for Individuals

Typically reserved for big cities and crowded residential areas, public transportation often comes with negative connotations. Not only are these vehicles often overstuffed with passengers, but in some areas, they’re hotbeds of crime and suspicious activity.

Future public transportation hopes to change all of that thanks to forthcoming and developing transportation technologies. Some areas, such as Masdar City in Abu Dhabi and the neighborhoods surrounding Heathrow Airport in London, already use personal transportation pods to mitigate many of these issues.

There’s only room for one passenger per pod, which immediately reduces the risk of crime or personal injury, and their intuitiveness makes them an excellent example of how easy it is to integrate new transportation technologies into everyday life.

5. High-Speed Rail Networks

High-speed rail networks are generating tremendous interest all around the globe. The Shinkansen bullet train was officially unveiled in Japan in 1964, and countries have been hoping to introduce their networks ever since.

Although there’s been little progress, some nations are still pursuing these plans. Officials in the United States are currently considering no less than ten high-speed rail networks in the country alone.

The Hyperloop — originally conceived by Elon Musk — is an underground rail that shows speeds up to 240 mph in early tests. Developers hope to achieve three times that speed with the finished version.

6. Gyroscopic Vehicles

Although flying cars might be too complicated for mainstream use any time soon, hovering vehicles — which are propelled with the assistance of monorails and balanced through the innovative use of next-gen gyroscopes — could solve public transportation issues across the globe. While these vehicles look like they’re something out of a sci-fi comic book or television show, they could become a reality sooner than expected.

Sometimes referred to as gyrocars, their size makes them more akin to modern busses or trains. Early conceptualizations show a vehicle that can move along on city streets and even raise its body via built-in stilts to navigate through traffic congestion without stopping.

The Road to Innovation

While the future is anything but clear, it’s the beginning of new breakthroughs and innovations of all kinds. Although travelers in the U.S. might never see a high-speed rail network that is capable of matching the speeds of Japan’s bullet train or ride in a single-passenger pod around their nearest airport, these developments — as well as some early conceptualizations and prototypes — are proof of fun and exciting times ahead.

 

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The power of “and”

Former GM executive Larry Burns discusses how Detroit and Silicon Valley both look to have critical roles in the future of mobility

By Dennis Pankratz, Research Manager, Center for Integrated Research, Deloitte Services LP for Deloitte Insights

Auto executive and adviser Larry Burns sees the future of mobility filled with driverless cars, with a wide range of customers, uses, and market segments—and plenty of room for innovation in both Detroit and Silicon Valley.

Few people are as deeply familiar with both the automotive industry and the technology community as Larry Burns, who spent more than three decades at General Motors, ultimately serving as corporate vice president for research, development, and planning. He is also an academic and a longtime adviser to Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car program. Burns’ recent book, Autonomy, offers an inside account of the efforts to develop self-driving vehicles.1 In a wide-ranging discussion, he shared his views about the future of mobility.

Derek Pankratz: You’ve been thinking about changes in transportation for a long time. Looking back at what you believed or expected 10 or 15 years ago, what has surprised you?

Larry Burns: There were a couple of really big surprises. When we finished the [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA] Urban Challenge in 2007,2 we asked the head of DARPA, “What’s next?” And he said, “Well, you’ve proven this is viable. It’s really up to the commercial sector to run with it.” So all of us expected that everyone would be knocking on the doors of these young engineers to go make driverless cars happen—and quite honestly, except for Google launching its self-driving car program in 2009, very little happened. I was really surprised that the commercial sector didn’t jump at it. So I’d say my biggest surprise was how long it took for a lot of people to accept that this was real and was possible, especially the auto industry, which is so significantly impacted by what’s going on. And now there’s this stampede. Suddenly everybody’s an expert.

One other thing in terms of my own journey. When I left GM, I went to Columbia University and led a program for sustainable mobility. We looked at what you could do with a driverless, electric, shared vehicle model, and the results were pretty remarkable in terms of the number of vehicles required and the cost per mile.3 But the reality is there are almost 200 million cars and trucks in the United States,4 and a lot of people who want to have their own. So I’ve given thought to the idea of an autonomous vehicle that can be personal-use as well as shared-use, because I think the future is going to be both of those.

DP: It’s an interesting challenge. I know Deloitte’s surveys suggest that the biggest reservation people have about shared mobility is exactly that: It’s the issue of personal space and not wanting to share a confined area with somebody else.5

LB: I don’t think people will be owning their car like we do today—I expect it will be more like a lease or subscription. If you have an autonomous vehicle for your own personal use, you’ll likely want to be picked up at your door and dropped off at your door. And you won’t want to be hassled with parking your vehicle—you’ll want that vehicle to be smart enough to go somewhere and refuel or recharge and wait for you. I think that vehicle would get a lot more usage than my personal car now: When I arrive at work, it drops me off at the door, and then I could dispatch it in the middle of the day to go pick up my dry cleaning, and I could dispatch it again to go get takeout dinner and then go pick up my kids and then pick me up at work and take me back home. This whole world of a robotic personal valet is very intriguing to me; I think it’s going to eliminate the need for owning a second and third car initially and, ultimately, owning a car altogether.

Some worry that additional road miles from both shared and personal usage will cause more congestion, but for those people who are taking trips they couldn’t before—due to their age or a disability, for example—and are now able to participate more in society and the economy, that’s a good thing. We should be celebrating those miles. It’s also worth keeping in mind that if vehicles are operated as a fleet, you’re going to be optimizing the use of that fleet. Ride-hailing providers don’t operate like a fleet—they are a bunch of individual agents trying to get matched up with a ride. Our work at Columbia showed that you want to simultaneously have very high fleet utilization and very low empty miles—miles with no passengers in the car. The business reality of fleet management will help us on the congestion front.

DP: I think about that personal-valet model a lot. I live in a fairly rural area in Colorado where a shared fleet model doesn’t seem to make sense. There are all of these small and medium towns where it’s hard to see how you get the utilization to make it worthwhile, so the dedicated-use approach seems natural.

LB: Fifty-three percent of Americans say they live in suburbs, and 21 percent in those rural towns that you’re talking about, which is a nontrivial slice of the population. And that’s what’s so exciting about the future autonomous electric vehicle market. There are going to be a lot of market segments, and that provides great opportunities for innovative companies to define their brands, find their niches, and deliver real value tailored to those opportunities.

DP: You briefly mentioned electric vehicles. When you were working on the AUTOnomy concept car at GM in the early 2000s, you built around hydrogen fuel cells.6 My impression today is that there is a lot more activity around battery electric vehicles. Any thoughts on the pros and cons of those two different types of power sources and their future prospects?

LB: If I could change one thing in my public rhetoric in my role at GM, I probably would never have uttered the words fuel cell. I would have called it a hydrogen battery instead, because to be honest, they’re very similar. And progress on hydrogen storage, production, and distribution and fuel cells has been very impressive. Germany just announced that it’s going to have trains operating on hydrogen fuel cells,7 and there are over-the-road trucks being developed that use hydrogen fuel cells.8 So I think this is not battery or fuel cell. I think it’s an and. You’re going to have a lot of synergy in the propulsion system around that and; depending on which market you’re dealing with, hydrogen and fuel cells are going to find their role.

DP: That and point is really interesting, because it’s always presented as one versus the other.

LB: One of my biggest lessons is the power of and. A lot of business leaders get trapped thinking they have to select between A or B. And they forget to ask the question, “What about A and B?” What I have found over the years is that “A and B” often beats A or B by themselves. I think it’s hugely important to find the power of and.

DP: Another topic that’s often posed as a dichotomy: the role of vehicle-to-vehicle [V2V], vehicle-to-infrastructure [V2I], and vehicle-to-everything [V2X] communication. Some people say it’s critical and we’ve got to have it in some form. Others say it’s actually superfluous, or that it would be nice to have but is too expensive and takes too long to build out, so we’re going to keep everything onboard the vehicle.

LB: It’s another beautiful example of the power of and. For two cars to talk to each other, both need to have enabling hardware and communications technology. For V2I, the infrastructure is pretty expensive to deploy. But in time, as we get to Gen-2, Gen-3 autonomous systems, I think you’re going to see V2V and V2I become a way to reduce cost and perhaps even improve performance. I’ve learned to never rule out any technology. I dedicated my book Autonomy to engineers. Engineers make what’s possible real; that’s what we do.

DP: Let’s talk about yet another apparent binary choice between developing advanced driver assist features like automatic emergency braking or lane departure correction, and aiming for “fully” autonomous systems that don’t anticipate a human taking control. How do you see Level 2 and 3 automation playing into this whole picture?9

LB: I’ve been an adviser to Waymo, Google’s self-driving car project, since January 2011, and they made a really important decision that they were going to develop autonomous systems for only where there’s no human involved at all. If our goal is to eliminate over 90 percent of crashes, we really need to go for Level 4 and Level 5, full autonomous. I believe the right thing to do is to get the driver out of the loop altogether: The situational-awareness challenge of asking someone to reengage in the driving task when they’ve been sitting there not driving for 20 or 30 minutes is a tougher problem to solve than getting the system to autonomously handle 99.99 … percent of the stuff that happens in the world. With that said, I think it’s useful to be developing emergency braking systems, full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane keeping, stability control. That’s been good for safety purposes. But at the end of the day, I believe the objective should be to get to Level 4, starting in a geo-fenced area that’s big enough to have commercial value.10

DP: It seems safe to say that you’re a believer in the opportunities around autonomous vehicles. What do you see as the biggest hurdles to widespread adoption? Is it technological, social, regulatory, or something else?

LB: My biggest fear is that people will make premature judgments about what we’re doing, whether out of fear or just not knowing. Have you had a chance to ride in a driverless car?

DP: I have.

LB: So you have a different experience than someone who hasn’t. My first ride on public roads was in late 2010. I engaged the system. My hands were shaking over the steering wheel. My feet were nervous over the pedals. But within five minutes, I was relaxed; I realized this car was doing everything I would do as a driver and even better. And I suddenly realized I had no desire to change lanes and try to get ahead of somebody in front of me because I had my time to myself. I think this is all about people understanding what’s possible in their lives and what’s possible with the technology. I worry about people coming to a premature judgment and therefore resisting. And I very much worry about players who have a strong vested interest in the existing roadway transportation system.

I’m not worrying about the technology—I have not seen anything come up yet that says we’ve hit the wall and that we can’t keep finding solutions to those driving challenges that are the most difficult that we face today as humans.

DP: It’s another and moment, although maybe one that could slow progress. You can imagine hesitance or uncertainty by the public combined with a variety of vested interests that are able to capitalize on a moment where there’s no broad popular support.

LB: It’s going to play out with a tipping point. There’s this tendency to want to look into the future to know how big it’s going to be and when, to predict market shares and penetrations. That’s impossible. I focus more on that magical moment when market value exceeds price and price exceeds cost. The technology is proven, the customer value is proven, the business opportunity is proven, the regulatory barriers are not there, and it becomes clear this is now just a question of scaling through a series of generational deployments. That magical moment is within a three-to-five-year window, unless these vested interests push back so hard that they slow things down.

DP: Related to the hurdles, I’m personally very interested in the psychology or sociology of car ownership, particularly in the United States. Car culture is deeply embedded in a lot of places. The car is more than just a way to get around—it’s a longstanding symbol of who we are and who we want to be.11 Is that a significant barrier?

LB: Another very good question. I think about it through the lens of my two daughters, who are 30 and 27. My coming of age was when I got my driver’s license and my first car. Their coming of age was their first cellphone, not their first car. Over the last 10 or 15 years, I’ve asked them what would you give up first—your cellphone or your car? And they say they’d give up the car before they’d give up their handheld device. Younger generations are expressing themselves in a much different way than just through car ownership.12

DP: What about some of the nightmare scenarios or unintended consequences of these new mobility innovations? Many cities are already dealing with an influx of ride-hailing vehicles, and you mentioned sending your self-driving car to pick up your dry cleaning. You’ve done detailed modeling on a number of cities looking at what shared autonomous vehicle adoption could look like. Any insights?

LB: At Columbia, we asked the question: “To make all the one- or two-person trips that automobiles currently make, how many tailored-design driverless electric vehicles would you need?” In city after city that we studied, you could replace all of the cars with a fleet that’s 15 percent the size and still make all the trips that are being made. In simulations, those vehicles were picking people up in two to three minutes. We had empty miles on the order of 5 percent of loaded miles. How? It has to do with population density. In cities like Ann Arbor, the probability that somebody is requesting a trip nearby just as I am being dropped off is pretty high. So a properly managed, optimized fleet would take a lot of cars out of the system.

Now, not everybody’s going to want to share a car. I accept that. Let’s say I’m at home cooking dinner for friends, and I realize I forgot to buy wine. I dispatch my personal robotic valet to the wine store to pick up the wine and come back. Would you call that an empty mile? I still would have made that trip driving my own vehicle. Today we have a system that is not optimized for fleet utilization. It just isn’t. But if you’re in the fleet business providing transportation services, a penny per mile really matters.

DP: We’ve largely been focused on the movement of people, but there are big changes happening with the movement of goods as well.

LB: There are really two big opportunities with goods movement, and we may see commercially viable businesses at meaningful scale sooner with goods movement than people movement. The first opportunity is in long-haul trucking. The most recent numbers from the American Trucking Association indicate that an average driver makes about 73 cents a mile, wages and benefits.13 That’s 47 percent of the cost per mile for over-the-road trucking. But not only would self-driving trucks save the 73 cents a mile—you have the opportunity to expand your daily service area because you don’t have driver work rules; an autonomous tractor could conceivably go 24/7 or 23.5/7 based on maintenance. That’s really important for e-commerce. And when you think about all of the parts on a tractor that are there because there’s a driver—the windshield, doors, side windows, seats, air-conditioning, heating, driving controls—it’s easy to convince yourself that the pile of parts you no longer need will cost more than the parts you’re going to add to make the tractor autonomous.

On the other side is package delivery, and it becomes even more interesting when the vehicles doing local package delivery can be the same vehicles you’re using for moving people around, and they can have different temporal patterns throughout the day. Maybe more of the packages are getting delivered at night. That might improve fleet utilization and congestion in urban areas.

DP: Speaking of urban mobility, we talked about autonomous vehicles and changes to the car. We’re also seeing other kinds of micro-mobility popping up: bikesharing, e-scooters, micro-transit vans. How do you see those fitting into a world of shared autonomous fleets?

LB: Well I think it’s that key word again: and. This isn’t about picking one winner to replace the more than one billion cars in the world. I’m very excited by all of those modes that are cropping up, and I think they’re going to be enhanced by the ability to seamlessly interface with them via apps. My long-term vision is for one totally integrated transportation system where you’re able to coordinate the movement of people and goods using these different modes in a seamless way. Deloitte is doing some important work on that, and I think that’s where this is headed.

DP: We’re pretty bullish on the idea of digital mobility platforms for cities.

LB: I think you should be.

DP: We’ve talked here about some pretty momentous changes unfolding. What does all of this mean for players in various industries? You’re in a somewhat unique position in that you’re a longtime veteran of the automotive industry and also been closely involved with one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent projects in this area.

LB: The original subtitle for the book Autonomy was “The race to build the driverless car and how it will reshape our world.” Our editor suggested we change the word race to quest. It seems like a simple change, but we kicked off the book with a sense of Silicon Valley versus Detroit, and by the end of the book it’s Silicon Valley and Detroit. The tech community has brought enormous insight and value; they have been the catalysts to bring this change about. But in those early days, those tech players were not fully appreciating how hard it is to design, engineer, validate, and manufacture a car at the scale at which the auto industry operates. What’s reassuring to me now is that the auto industry is working with Silicon Valley on their autonomous R&D. And Silicon Valley has turned to the auto industry for the kinds of vehicles they need to keep learning. So I think you’re seeing it as an and.

People ask me a lot, “Who’s going to win?” I think you’re going to see an ecosystem emerge not unlike the one that emerged with the internet. I’m not at all convinced that there’s going to be a single vertically integrated player that emerges from this that can do the driving system, the vehicle, the transportation system operations, the brand building, and all of that. I think you’re going to see quite a bit of codependency emerge. But those who become dominant in certain parts of that ecosystem could do really well.

DP: And does seem to be the theme of a lot of things happening in mobility. Let’s focus in on the automotive industry. If you were in an automaker’s shoes today, what do you think they should be doing to be ready for the future to best position themselves?

LB: They’re in a tough position because they have to continue to keep their legacy business viable while trying to pivot to these new businesses where they don’t have the core competencies and they don’t have infinitely deep pockets. That’s a really, really tough puzzle to solve.

With all of that said, autonomous vehicles won’t work without the vehicle, and the vehicles are hard to do. I think the big concern for the industry is that those vehicles are going to become more commodity-like. The engineering of the vehicle becomes much simpler down the road when it’s electrically driven, doesn’t require a human driver, and you get most of the crashes out of the system. And I don’t think the differentiator in the market is going to be chrome and fenders and fascia and the shape and the color. It’s going to be very much the overall experience that customers have, and that experience is going to be determined more by software and data and analytics than the traditional basis of competition in the auto industry. There are going to be some really tough portfolio decisions. Which parts of the traditional business do I want to hang with? Where is the profit? How do I pivot to this future of mobility that we’re talking about today? Can we attract the best talent to play in that race? Bottom line: The traditional players in the century-old roadway transportation system, including auto, energy, insurance, and finance companies, must get in front of the inevitable and make hard choices on “where to play” and “how to win” in the future.

DP: You’ve neatly framed the challenges of balancing today’s business with tomorrow’s needs. When you think about the future of mobility, what’s your greatest hope?

LB: My greatest hope is that we realize what I call the age of automobility—a convergence of autonomous electric vehicles deployed in transportation services—as fast and as soon as we possibly can with appropriate risk management. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this is a once-in-a-century opportunity to simultaneously deal with 1.3 million fatalities worldwide per year on roadways, to deal with congestion, to deal with dependence on oil in transportation, to deal with the land use that comes with three parking spots per car in the United States, and to deal with equality of access. The deaths and injuries from crashes alone—it’s epidemic in scale. If I just created a cure for cancer and it held promise to save a lot of people with cancer but some could still die from the treatment, I think we’d get on with it; we’d find a way to manage that. We ought to look at autonomous vehicles as a cure for the roadway transportation epidemic and think about their deployment the way we test and deploy vaccines.

So I have this fixation: I want to get to the anticipated benefits. This convergence of technology and business models really can have a significant, meaningful impact and bring more transportation services at lower cost to more people. There’s an opportunity to have radically better services at radically lower consumer and societal costs.

Endnotes
  1. Lawrence D. Burns with Christopher Shulgan, Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car—and How It Will Reshape Our World (HarperCollins, 2018). View in article
  2. The Urban Challenge was a 2007 competition sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in which teams had to construct an autonomous vehicle able to navigate an urban environment, including merging, passing, parking, and crossing intersections. DARPA, “Urban challenge,” accessed October 15, 2018.  View in article
  3. For instance, see Benjamin Zhang, “This study revealed the staggering potential of self-driving cars,” Business Insider, June 2, 2014. View in article
  4. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, “Number of U.S. aircraft, vehicles, vessels, and other conveyances,” accessed December 10, 2018. Number cited is for light-duty vehicles, short wheel-base, 2016. View in article
  5. Deloitte Global Automotive Consumer Study 2019, forthcoming. View in article
  6. “AUTOnomy” was a GM 2002 concept vehicle built around hydrogen fuel cell motors, drive-by-wire technology, and a skateboard-like chassis. See Burns and Shulgan, Autonomy. View in article
  7. AFP, “Germany rolls out world’s first hydrogen train,” France 24, September 17, 2018. View in article
  8. Kristin Lee, “Toyota’s new hydrogen fuel cell truck has a 300-mile range,” Jalopnik, August 1, 2018. View in article
  9. The Society of Automotive Engineers has identified five levels of vehicle automation, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) subsequently adopted. See the NHTSA, “Automated vehicles for safety,” accessed December 12, 2018. View in article
  10. David Roberts, “Here’s how self-driving cars could catch on,” Vox, May 9, 2018. View in article
  11. Robert Moor, “What happens to American myth when you take the driver out of it?,” New York Magazine, October 17, 2016; Brandon Tensley, “How will pop music adapt to autonomous cars?,” Slate, March 15, 2018. View in article
  12. Millennials may be only delaying car purchases rather than eschewing them, but their attitudes toward driving do seem distinct from those of previous generations. See Henry Miller, “How traveling by car is changing under millennials,” Matador Network, January 22, 2018; Mary Wisniewski, “Why Americans, particularly millennials, have fallen out of love with cars,” Chicago Tribune, November 12, 2018; and Kevin Drum, “Raw data: Kids and their cars,” Mother Jones, May 12, 2018. View in article
  13. American Transportation Research Institute, “An analysis of the operational costs of trucking: 2018 update,” October 2018. View in article

When will we have flying cars? Maybe sooner than you think.

After decades of promises, personal air vehicles are finally getting close to commercial reality—but you still probably won’t own one

By Gideon Lichfield, Editor-in-Chief, MIT Technology Review – February 13, 2019

Two weeks ago I would have said flying cars were still firmly in the realm of techno-utopian fantasy, as they have been for decades. Now I’m not quite so sure.

In the coming few years nearly 20 small airborne vehicles are supposedly hitting the market (see table below). Some are drone-like, with anywhere from four to 18 rotors keeping them aloft. Most are fixed-wing craft with propellers that point upwards for vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), and tilt forward for flight.

Some are also more realistic than others. While both Airbus and Boeing have projects under way, a raft of smaller companies are pushing aggressive time lines as well. Germany’s Volocopter plans to start trials this year of a flying taxi in Singapore. Uber has claimed it will start test runs next year for a service between Frisco, Texas, and the Dallas–Fort Worth airport,and that it plans to start commercial flights in 2023; it has five flying-car makers as partners.

But will they ever be safe, let alone affordable for anyone who isn’t mega-rich? At the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, I moderated a panel of experts who made a persuasive case that they could be—though, to be fair, most of the speakers had an interest in doing so.

The panelists were Dirk Carsten Hoke, CEO of Airbus; Ross Perot Jr., a Texas real estate mogul who is helping Uber start up the flying taxi service in Dallas; Liu Fang, director-general of the International Civil Aviation Organization; and Ion Yadigaroglu, a managing partner at Capricorn Investments , which has a stake in Joby Aviation. The panel was under the Chatham House rule, which means I can’t report specific statements, but this was the gist.

Flying cars currently in development
Name & manufacturer Type First manned flight* Expected delivery
Aeromobil 4.0 Folding-wing STOL 2014 (3.0 model) 2020
Aeromobil 5.0 Folding-wing VTOL N/A 2025 or later
Pop.Up Next (Airbus/Audi) Quadcopter 2018 (scale model only) ?
Vahana (Airbus) Fixed-wing VTOL 2018 2020
Aurora (Boeing) Fixed-wing VTOL 2019 2023 (for Uber)
Ehang 184 Quadcopter 2018 2019?
Volocopter 18-rotor copter 2016 Trials in 2019
Joby Aviation Fixed-wing VTOL N/A ?
Lilium Fixed-wing VTOL 2017 Before 2025
Moller Skycar Fixed-wing VTOL 2003 ?
Pal-V Single-rotor gyrocopter 2012 2020
Terrafugia Transition Folding-wing STOL 2009 2019
VRCO NeoXcraft Quadcopter with tilting rotors N/A 2020?
Kitty Hawk Cora (formerly Zee.Aero Zee) Fixed-wing VTOL 2016 ?
Opener BlackFly Fixed-wing VTOL 2018 ?
Karem Butterfly Fixed-wing VTOL N/A 2023 (for Uber)
Bell Nexus Hexacopter with tilting rotors N/A 2023 (for Uber) or 2025
Embraer X Octocopter with rear propeller N/A 2023 (for Uber)
Pipistrel Fixed-wing VTOL N/A 2023 (for Uber)
* Where known, first flight of a pre-production model

 

Why are so many flying cars launching in the next few years?

Lighter composite materials, better communications and guidance systems, and software that could enable the vehicles to fly themselves (probably essential if there’ll be a lot of them in the air) have all played a part. Above all, battery technology is on the verge of making electrically powered flight feasible. We’re still some way from the energy density needed for flights of any length, but short hops aren’t completely out of the question.

But wait—are these literally flying cars?

Not really. A few, like the Aeromobil and the Terrafugia Transition, are cars you could drive on the highway, but most are more like personal flying vehicles  .

So, um, helicopters?

Nope. Most have wings that generate lift, like ordinary planes. A few have multiple rotors, like drones. Either way they are, theoretically at least, safer than choppers (see below).

When can I buy a flying car?

Sorry, you probably won’t be able to. At least for now, you’d need  to be a certified pilot (or employ one) to fly it, and besides, where would you park it? They’ll mostly be owned by firms such as ride-sharing companies and run on fixed routes.

Will flying cars be autonomous?

Ultimately, they probably will be; human pilots are expensive and might not be reliably safe in a really crowded sky. Autonomous flying is an easier technical problem than autonomous driving: obstacles in the sky are few and can be detected with simple radar, whereas a self-driving car needs multiple sensors and heavily trained algorithms to recognize people, other vehicles, traffic signals, lanes, and so on. An automated air traffic management system in constant communication with every flying car could route them to prevent collisions, with human operators on the ground ready to take over by remote control in an emergency.  Still, existing laws and public fears mean there’ll probably have to be pilots at least for a while, even if only as a backup to an autonomous system.

Where will flying cars fly?

Places where demand is high and road traffic is bad—within large cities or from city centers to airports. Rural or intercity travel probably won’t make economic sense.

Where will you catch one?

At “vertistops” and larger “vertiports” on the tops of buildings, which will bring the building owners some extra revenue. (There’d also be chargers or battery-swapping stations there.) That’s how we’ll deal with the problem of finding space in crowded cities .

Won’t rides be insanely expensive?

Again, most of these aren’t helicopters but winged aircraft,   so all the propellers’ energy goes into pushing them forward after takeoff, not keeping them aloft. An electric VTOL vehicle’s energy use per mile is theoretically comparable to that of an electric car. Mass production should eventually bring down the prices of the vehicles themselves. The real cost problem might be the pilots (while we still have them, at least).

Still, our panel speculated that a trip of a few miles might cost passengers as little as $40 or $50—a bit more than a ground taxi, but in a congested city you’d get to your destination much more quickly. In a 2016 white paper, Uber had some sunny projections (pdf, p. 1 and p. 95) showing that for certain routes at least, it will actually be much cheaper, as well as several times faster, to take a flying car than a wheeled one.

Is it safe to have hundreds of flying cars buzzing above packed urban centers?

To make vertical takeoff possible, these vehicles need multiple engines that can produce far more power that what’s required for steady flight. That means that if one or two of them fail, the vehicle can still fly or glide to safety. New air traffic management systems will probably rely more on algorithms than humans to manage the routing—another reason why it’s better if the aircraft flyautonomously .

Okay, but what about a terrorist taking over a flying taxi and crashing it into a building?

As on planes, you could separate the pilot’s cabin from the passenger cabin to make a hijack harder. Failing that, maybe there’d be a system for letting ground controllers take over remotely, locking out the pilot, if the craft deviates from its planned route. In any case, one of these small craft probably can’t do enough damage to make it an attractive target for terrorists.

And how about hackers taking control?

That’s a more credible threat. Good cybersecurity is going to be essential.

Won’t flying cars be noisy?

Again—they’re not helicopters , so they don’t have huge blades to disturb the air. Also, the engines will be electric.

Countries are already going crazy trying to regulate drones; how will they regulate flying cars? 

These are pretty different problems. Since drones are cheap and anybody can buy one, regulators must stop  people from doing malicious or stupid things with them. VTOLs and their pilots, on the other hand, could be certified for safety much like regular aircraft, so existing regulations might not need to be modified much. A bigger question will be whether individual cities decide to allow them in their airspace.

So how long before flying taxis are a common sight in major cities?

Estimates on the panel ranged from “two to five years (but more likely five)” to “10 years.”

Is that plausible? Assuming a big leap in battery capacity, the biggest hurdle is likely to be regulatory. If flying cars are licensed and flown under the same rules as other aircraft, they could start to appear in a few places pretty soon, but managing large numbers of them will require a whole new approach to air traffic management. That, as a somewhat less boosterish panel of experts warned last year, is going to be a struggle.

Correction: an earlier version of this story incorrectly gave the year of the first manned flight of the Opener BlackFly as 2017.
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10 Best Automotive Technologies of 2019

By KBB.com Editors | January 9, 2019 1:14 PM – Kelley Blue Book

New car buyers would do well to spend less time looking under the hood and more examining all the technology in the car. Of course, the powertrain still matters, but more important is how the driver and vehicle occupants interact with today’s increasingly sophisticated automobiles. That’s why we’ve come up with our 10 Best Automotive Technologies of 2019.

These are the things to look for when buying a new car this year. You may not find them all useful, but regardless of price point it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a vehicle that has most of them. If you want to see the best of the best, find out which two all-new cars took home our 2019 Best Auto Tech Awards.

1. Connected Mobile Apps

It’s no exaggeration to say that the smartphone has changed everything, including how we interact with our cars. Most carmakers offer some sort of connected smartphone app, but some are better than others. Look for one that lets you remotely lock and unlock the doors, check the status of things like fuel and tire pressure, and even remotely start the car to warm things up on a cold winter’s morning.

Make sure to ask if there is a monthly or yearly subscription fee for the service, as it can vary from carmaker to carmaker.

2. Teen Driver Technology

Handing over the keys to your teenager can be a nerve-wracking experience, but some clever new tech might ease your mind a little bit. Several cars have some type of teen driver limitations built in that can notify you if the car is driven over a certain speed, disable the stereo if seatbelts aren’t used, and even keep the stereo from being turned up past 7 — never mind full blast!

Chevrolet’s Teen Driver feature also offers a Report Card that will tell parents if safety systems like ABS or forward collision alert have been triggered while Junior was behind the wheel.

3. Stolen Vehicle Tracking Software

Experts estimate that more than 750,000 motor vehicles will be stolen in 2019. While that number sounds alarming, nearly 46 percent of those vehicles will be recovered — and that number continues to improve. Much of the credit goes to innovative technology that automakers are building into their vehicles, such as the ability for the stolen car or truck to tell law enforcement when it is being held.

The technology is bundled into the vehicle’s assistance and security systems, such as BMW’s Connected Drive or GM’s OnStar. While those advertised features allow effortless diagnostics, concierge, and post-crash notification for summoning rescue services, they may also be used by law enforcement to pinpoint the exact location of a vehicle that is no longer in the owner’s possession. Criminals beware.

4. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

Though they are loath to admit it, many manufacturer infotainment systems — the do-it-all screens that control stereo, navigation, and climate control — aren’t very user-friendly. That’s why we like Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto. Plug in your smartphone and it takes over that big screen, replacing it with something that looks a lot more familiar and easy to use.

You’ll get a simplified control scheme to access your music, maps, and your phone’s built-in voice-control features while avoiding the unnecessarily complicated system that comes with the car. Basically every manufacturer has promised support for at least one or both Apple and Google’s systems, but not all trim levels will support them. Make sure to verify your car has the right options, and that it matches your mobile devices.

5. Adaptive Cruise Control

Commuting is no fun. But advanced driver assist systems like adaptive cruise control can take a lot of the stress out of the experience. By using an array of sensors built into the car, adaptive cruise control can match the speed of the car in front of you, meaning you don’t need to constantly hit the gas and brake in highway traffic.

Some systems even allow the car to be brought to a complete halt and then resume automatically, making stop-and-go traffic considerably less frustrating. It might make you uneasy handing over some amount of control to the car, but we promise: use it once, and you’ll never want to go back.

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6. Exit Warning to Protect Cyclists

People riding bicycles in congested urban areas are often as concerned with parked vehicles as they are with the vehicles on the road — an unexpected opening car door spells doom for cyclists and injury for hapless passengers. Automakers are beginning to address this common danger with rear-looking sensors that detect approaching bicycles and traffic.

The systems are engineered to work for several minutes after the engine has been turned off. If the sensors see an approaching bicyclist or close vehicle, they alert the passenger with a series of bright lights. If the warning is ignored, the most advanced systems will physically lock the door to prevent it from being swung open into the path of the approaching object.

7. Rear Cross-Traffic Alert

Parking lots are extremely common sites for low-speed — but pricey — car crashes. Backing out of a parking spot, even with a rearview backup camera, can be a perilous exercise. That’s why rear-cross traffic alert is so useful.

Thanks to sensors built into the rear of the car, the system can alert you to approaching vehicles, shopping carts, or pedestrians who might wander behind your car without you noticing. Loud beeps are standard with these systems, but some cars can even automatically brake before a collision occurs.

8. Lane Departure Warning

Distracted driving happens. Whether it’s a quick glance at the stereo to change the channel or a child urgently asking for your attention, sometimes we pay a little less attention to the road than we should.

Lane departure warning systems use cameras to determine if a car has drifted across a marked lane line, giving a visual or audible notification (or even a vibration through the seat or steering wheel) that you’ve moved too far out of your lane. The system turns itself off when you use a directional, so there’s no fear of accidental engagement.

More advanced tech, sometimes called Lane Keeping Assist, can even help nudge you back into the proper lane, which can be a literal life-saver if you were heading into opposing traffic.

9. Automatic Emergency Braking

Automatic Emergency Braking or AEB uses a variety of sensors to determine if a forward collision crash is imminent and automatically applies the brakes to diminish the severity or avoid a crash entirely.

The auto industry agreed to make AEB standard in cars by 2022, but many vehicles have it available today. The systems are extremely good, though you absolutely shouldn’t rely on it to stop you — it’s meant as a last resort for when the driver isn’t paying attention, and it’s extremely alarming when the system does engage. While Apple CarPlay and smartphone apps are important, this one could save your life, so it’s worth making this one a high priority on your shopping list.

10. 360-Degree Camera

Insurance claims from low-speed crashes are some of the most common in the industry. Usually occurring during parking, a 360-degree camera system can make life a lot easier for folks who might not realize just how big that new SUV is.

By combining cameras on every side of the car with some clever computing power, your car’s display can show a virtual top-down view of your surroundings. It can show the sides of your garage, whether you’re lined up in the parking spot at the grocery store, or provide invaluable assistance while parallel parking.

The systems are getting cheaper and cheaper, and are available on even moderately priced cars these days. If you’re in the market for a small hatchback, you might not need this one as much — but a big SUV? You could find it invaluable.