By on October 15, 2019

Italdesign/YouTube

Few topics anger this writer as much as the so-called “flying car.” Much like the massive airships Popular Mechanics assured us were right around the corner back in the mid 1990s, the flying car seems more like a tech writer’s fever dream than a viable and imminent form of transport.

For starters, they’re mainly just helicopters, though some aircraft would provide “last mile” service to the rider’s final destination using a motor and steerable wheels. The vehicles/aircraft would be autonomous, too. It sounds like a regulatory nightmare awash in red tape.

One company pursuing such a product is Audi, though the automaker recently admitted its dreams aren’t even close to becoming a reality. It’s now paring things back.

Speaking to Roadshow, Audi admitted this week that it’s deploying the drogue chute on its plans for a flying taxi, built with help from aerospace partner Airbus and Italdesign. The automaker stated it is “currently working on a realignment of our urban air mobility activities and [has] not yet made a decision on possible future products.”

Flying car taxis, Audi said, will not become a reality for “a very long time.”

That said, Audi remains committed to the idea, saying the recent pair-up between fellow Volkswagen Group subsidiary Porsche and Boeing could prove beneficial to its own efforts. The company might choose to piggyback on Porsche and Boeing’s development of a flying taxi.

Last year, Audi and its partners released a concept, the Pop.Up Next.

The idea’s current form is modern, but the overall idea of shuttling passengers to, say, downtown New York City from nearby airports is nothing new. New York Airways once flew passengers from JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark to helipads in Manhattan, including one atop the former Pan Am Building. It was there that a Sikorsky rotor blade made prosciutto of five unfortunate souls, cancelling all further landings on the rooftop pad. The airline closed its doors in 1979 following another fatal crash.

Boeing

Nowadays, the flying taxi vision incorporates a scaled-up drone with enclosed blades and a passenger compartment suspended below it. After touching down on a waiting autonomous, EV vehicle platform, the rotor array would detach, allowing the passenger pod and attached platform to drive to its destination. Other concepts, like the one envisioned by Porsche and Boeing, resemble a tailless airplane with vertical takeoff capability. Electricity would provide the propulsion, and final-mile travel would not be offered. Unlike Audi, the two partners feel a hub-to-hub solution makes the most sense.

Passengers can grab an Uber for that last jaunt to the front door.

Speaking of Uber, Uber Air is a thing, with the money-losing ride-hailing company planning a very helicopter-like electric aircraft to transport people in a similar fashion. Test flights will supposedly get off the ground in the coming year, with commercial service pegged for 2023.

If this all sounds like a mobility solution for the wealthy, you’re not far off. Airline travel, both with lighter-than-air airships and later fixed-wing transport, started off as a plaything of the rich. It was only after aircraft costs fell and passenger capacity rose when an ordinary person could afford to buy an airline ticket. Thank the Douglas DC-3 for opening up that mode of transport for the average Joe.

Yet automakers like Porsche, well-versed in offering transport for the wealthy, aren’t saying such a service is anything but. The automaker calls it another form “premium mobility.”

As we all know, all things mobility are hungrily eyed by automakers eager to find new revenue streams in a cooling auto market. From driverless Chrysler Pacifica fleets to batwing-shaped autonomous air taxis, few mobility solutions of dubious revenue potential are off the table.

[Image: Italdesign, Boeing]

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17 Comments on “Don’t Hold Your Breath Waiting for an Audi Flying Car...”


  • avatar
    ScarecrowRepair

    Read an interesting commentary on why there will never be flying cars. For vertical lift, you need as much force going down as the weight of the vehicle, and if you try to do that in such a small space as the vehicle’s own outline, the wind would simply be horrendous.

    Wings work because they trick lift out of the air in other ways. Mere rotors shoving air straight down can’t do that.

    By his logic, the only way to ever get practical flying cars is some other propulsion method entirely — magnetic fields (which would probably have to be too strong to be acceptable) or anti-gravity or who knows what.

    All the proposed flying cars are still airplanes, not vertical lift.

    P.S. I am not, and don’t even pretend to play, an aeronautical engineer!

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    All someone needs to do is invent an anti-gravity generator. No problem.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      You’re sure they haven’t? Asking for a friend…

    • 0 avatar

      :All someone needs to do is invent an anti-gravity generator. No problem.”

      And it was invented by Stanisław Lem in Return from Stars. And because of Einstein equivalence principle it also eliminates acceleration forces and therefore guarantees absolute safety. I am talking about F = am.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      In fully financialized dystopias, where those with investable funds will inevitably be not exactly the brightest of dunces, you don’t need to invent anything.

      You just need to claim that you will do, in a prospectus. Then let The Fed rob enough productive people by way of debasement, so that it can hand enough loot to its favored members of the Gilded Halfwit’s Guilt, to allow them to prop you up and let you play “visionary” for awhile.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Good article – agreed on all points.

    The big companies need to be doing advanced research, but the public release of thoroughly unfeasible artists’ renditions makes them look pretty stupid. And I wonder how much money is wasted on such projects.

  • avatar
    ThomasSchiffer

    I like driving, not flying.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Even assuming you could make the technology work, every problem that cars have is just magnified by flying cars.

    Cars are already extremely dangerous: they kill 40,000 people a year in the U.S. alone. Now imagine if they could fall out of the sky at any place and at any moment.

    Cars already take up more space than is practical in cities. Now imagine that you have to have sufficient clearance between each to avoid any midair collision. There aren’t any fender-benders in the sky.

    Cars already use a disproportionate amount of energy (to the extent that we could avoid Middle East entanglements, but for our cars). Now imagine that they have to hold themselves off the ground in addition to moving along it.

    Cars already create congestion; now imagine hundreds of thousands of them overhead.

    Yuck. I’ll stick with commercial airplanes for my flying needs and wheeled ground transportation (whether with or without an engine) for everything else.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Congestion is one thing adding a third dimension to the transportation network, would solve.

      But, as @ScarecrowRepair noted, using thrusters to lift car sized vehicles, in crowded environments, up into all the lanes freed up by adding that third dimension, is simply completely untenable. Musk’s Boring Company, with tunnels and elevators, is more realistic than that. And that’s saying something…

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    Audi just seems to be droning-on here!

    I don’t much trust German manufacturers to be able to do this, anyway! See Peter DeLorenzo’s column for this week as a perfect example!

    These things would be falling out of the sky like raindrops!

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    “the massive airships Popular Mechanics assured us were right around the corner back in the mid 1990s”

    It’s worse than that – spurred by some forum discussion or other, I did a Google Books search of Pop Mech covers, and found proclamations of incipient airship domination roughly every five to ten years from the 1930s until the early 2000s. They just couldn’t resist.

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    I don’t see flying cars as something most Audi customers would buy. How are they going to screech around the neighborhood, flip people the bird and blow stoplights in the sky?

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      The Audi Rule: Your product will be taken seriously as soon as it is seen being driven by Tony Stark.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Are you European?

      In America, Bimmer drivers are the ones who stereotypically drive like that. While Audi drivers are the “sensible” guys, who want a “German Sports Sedan” with a “well appointed, tasteful interior,” without wanting to be associated with the above Bimmer drivers…..

      But from what I gather, “our” Bimmer guys are “Europe’s” Audi guys. While Bimmers are, in Europe and again stereotypically, mainly driven by young minority males; who make money selling drugs, and spend money buying rims.


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