Intelligent Machines

Flying Cars Are Becoming Reality—But Do You Have What It Takes to Own One?

You’ll need strong nerves—and a large wallet—to make use of the world’s first commercially available airborne automobiles.

You were promised flying cars. And pretty soon, you’re going to have flying cars. But there will be a couple of rather significant barriers to entry if you decide to take the plunge and buy one.

German firm Lilium demonstrated on Thursday that its all-electric two-seater air taxi really flies. Its vehicle, which offers vertical take-off and landing and uses 36 jet engines mounted on 10-meter-long wings to push it through the sky, is the kind of thing that fuels Uber’s fever dreams of an on-demand aviation network.

It’s designed to travel around 180 miles on a charge, hitting speeds of 180 miles per hour in flight, and Lilium claims that it could whisk you from central Manhattan to JFK Airport in five minutes at a cost of $36—which it contrasts to a 55-minute taxi ride that could, on a bad day, cost double that. That’s the charm of the skies: less traffic and more direct routes.

But Lilium’s vehicle isn’t road-going, and at any rate who wants to ride in a flying car when you could own one instead?

Right on cue, Slovakian company AeroMobil has also unveiled its first market-ready flying car. The appropriately named, er, Flying Car, which can also whisk you down highways and is pictured above, has been in development for years—a prototype first flew in 2013. But now AeroMobil is making 500 of the vehicles commercially available, promising to deliver them to customers by 2020. 

You will, however, need deep pockets: the car will set you back over $1 million, making it the preserve of the rich for now. Still, for that money you do get impressive specifications: it has a range of 434 miles while driving or 466 miles while flying, with top speeds of 100 miles per hour on tarmac or 224 in the air, and can switch modes in under three minutes. There’s even a parachute installed for emergency landings.

Wait, what? That final point brings us rather neatly to the second barrier standing between you and a future of commuting through the skies: bravery. If you feel at all uneasy about the prospect of buckling into a flying car, you are most certainly not alone: a new University of Michigan survey about consumer appetite for the vehicles found that “most Americans are very concerned about the safety of flying cars.”

That’s not to say that they’re intrinsically unsafe—and at any rate, the parachute should help. But a certain leap of faith will be required to entrust one’s life to a vehicle the size of a station wagon that also happens to zip through the air. And yet, the allure of freedom and faster journeys may prove to be enough to for many people to make such a leap: the same survey also found that “despite the [safety concerns], most [people] would still ultimately like to use them.”

Better get saving, then.

(Read more: Reuters, Wired, University of Michigan, “Uber’s New Goal: Flying Cars in Less Than a Decade,” “Flying Cars Now Seem a Bit Less Ridiculous, but Not Much,” “Who’s Brave Enough to Be a Test Pilot for Flying Cars?”)

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