Category Archives: Travel

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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7 Key Technology Trends Emerging in the Travel Industry for 2019 (Videos)

Via Refine.com, a revenue management blog | No date

For businesses in the travel industry, as well as their customers, technology plays a vital role. It has the capacity to increase the efficiency of business operations and also improve the customer experience, but it is critical that hotels and other companies keep up-to-date with the emerging technology trends so they do not fall behind competitors. In this article, you will find details about seven of the most important tech trends in today’s tourism industry.

1. Internet of Things (IoT)

One of the most exciting emerging technology trends is the Internet of Things (IoT), which involves internet-based inter-connectivity between everyday devices, allowing them to both send and receive data. Already, we are seeing examples of its role within the travel and tourism industry and this is only going to increase.

For instance, IoT technology can be used in hotel rooms to provide customers with a device that connects to everything from the lights, to the heaters and air conditioning, allowing all to be controlled from one place. In airports, meanwhile, luggage cases can be installed with sensors that will alert passengers when they pass by.

Example: Smart technology smarter airports

 

Find more detailed information about the ‘Internet of Things’ in the travel industry in the article “How the Internet of Things (IoT) can Benefit the Travel Industry”.

2. Recognition Technology

Finally, recognition technology is especially interesting within this list of key tech trends, due to its potential for removing friction from purchases and making interactions seamless. The technology itself includes finger print recognition, facial recognition, retina scanning and various other biometric identifiers.

Such technology is already being used in some hotels to allow access to rooms via finger prints, or to allow for semi-contactless check-outs. However, in the future, it is hoped that this technology may be able to allow for customers to pay for meals in the hotel restaurant simply by walking through the exit.

Example: Facial Recognition Check-in in Marriott China

 

Find more detailed information and examples about facial recognition use cases in the travel industry in the article “4 Ways Facial Recognition Can Be Used in the Travel Industry”.

3. Virtual Reality (VR)

Virtual reality has exploded in recent years, with increased availability of virtual reality headsets as home entertainment products. While much of the excitement has focused on video games, businesses and marketers have also made use of the technology, especially in terms of interactive 360 degree images and videos.

It is one of the most promising tech trends for tourism-related companies, because it allows them to digitally transport customers to a virtual recreation of a specific place. This affords hotels the opportunity to showcase their rooms, reception areas and even local tourist hotspots on their website, in order to encourage bookings.

Example: The world’s first Virtual Reality travel search and booking experience

 

Find more detailed information and examples about how virtual reality can benefit your business in the article “How Virtual Reality is Transforming the Travel Industry”.

4. Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented reality is similar to virtual reality, but involves augmenting a person’s real surroundings, rather than replacing them. One of the major plus points of this particular technological trend is that it is cheaper than VR, with users requiring only a smartphone or tablet device which has access to the internet.

Through graphical overlays, those in the tourism industry can greatly enhance the customer experience, providing customers with valuable information or even pure entertainment. For instance, apps can allow for photographs to be augmented through filters and effects. Details about local destinations can also be displayed as a customer points their smartphone at them, providing information at the exact time that it is most relevant.

Example: Augmented reality within the hospitality industry

 

Find more detailed information and examples about how augmented reality can benefit your business in the article “How Augmented Reality is Revolutionising the Travel Industry”.

5. Robotics

Even a decade ago, the idea of robots being deployed regularly within the travel industry would have seemed like the work of a science fiction writer. Yet, it is becoming increasingly prevalent, with artificially intelligent robots, often equipped with speech recognition technology, being used in place of information points by chains like Hilton.

Robots are also utilised for a variety of other reasons. For example, in airports, they can be used to detect concealed weapons, while some manufacturers are also using robotics to create luggage cases that intelligently follow you. Moreover, travel agents are using robots for pre-screening, making waiting times more productive for customers.

Example: Autonomous Security Robots

 

Find more detailed information and examples about robot use cases in the travel industry in the article “Robots in the Travel Industry: 8 Real-World Examples”.

6. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Away from robots, artificial intelligence is being used in other ways too. Perhaps the most obvious use within the travel industry is for customer service purposes, with chatbots possessing the ability to deliver rapid response times to problems or queries. It is also able to continuously learn from interactions with customers.

In addition, hotels and other companies operating in the tourism industry can make use of artificial intelligence to accurately and continuously sort through data. It will be able to draw conclusions about business performance or trends associated with customer satisfaction, and even intelligently manage inventories.

Example: Create Your Bot Booking Travel

 

Find more detailed information and examples about artificial intelligence use cases in the travel industry in the article “How Artificial Intelligence is Changing the Travel Industry”.

7. Big Data

In the modern tourism industry, big data is a fact of life, and almost all companies that are successful employ their own data collection techniques. One of the biggest uses for this data is to improve personalisation, with travel companies using the information they gather to make specific adjustments to their offerings.

Another valuable use for data is to analyse current business performance. In particular, hotel owners can use big data for revenue management purposes, using historic occupancy rates and other past trends to better anticipate levels of demand. When demand is predictable, pricing and promotional strategies can also be optimised.

Example: Big Data and predictive analysis

 

Find more detailed information and examples about big data in the travel industry in the article “5 Ways Big Data Can Benefit the Travel Industry”.

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