1Science Fiction Moves Forward
Flying cars have long been a staple of science fiction, but until recently the technology to build small, versatile flying vehicles hasn’t really existed. That may be about to change.
John Markoff of the New York Times has given the world its first look at a single-person flying vehicle created by Kitty Hawk, a startup funded by Google billionaire Larry Page. It looks a bit like a scaled-up version of the quadcopter drones a lot of people got under their Christmas trees in recent years. It has pontoons on the bottom, and the idea seems to be that people will use it like a high-tech jet ski, zooming 10 or 20 feet above the water.
The broader category of small, battery-powered flying vehicles could have a much bigger impact. According to Bloomberg, Kitty Hawk has a division called Zee Aero that is working on larger flying vehicles that could be used for rapid commuting within an urban area.
” There’s a couple of technologies that are maturing and converging” to make small, affordable airplanes feasible, said Brian German, an aerospace researcher at Georgia Tech, in a December interview.
German argues that lighter and more powerful electric motors, batteries that can store more energy, and more sophisticated aviation software could transform the market for small aircraft.
Those breakthroughs could make possible the kind of Star Wars– style landspeeder Kitty Hawk unveiled this week. They are behind the small package-delivery drones already being developed by Amazon, Google’s X moonshot lab, and a number of startups. And before long, they could also make it possible for people to commute to work in small flying vehicles.
Silicon Valley innovations are spilling over into aviation
That means a normal airplane needs a long runway to take off and land. Vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft, by contrast, take off vertically like a helicopter, then switch to flying horizontally once they’re in the air.