Biker on the turbo bike

 

There are certain technologies that fall into the category of things we never knew we needed.  I think pretty much anything in the world of social media, such as Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram, falls into that category.  But there is undeniably one type of technology that has been dreamed about for decades that could be getting closer to reality: personal flight devices.

I’ve always enjoyed airplanes.  Earning my private pilot certificate back in 2008 was one of the most challenging and thrilling things that I’ve ever achieved.  The process took about two years due to obstacles such as plane availability, mechanical issues, severe weather, and even life in general. But, we could be on the verge of the dawn of a new age of flying.  

Boeing in 2017, sponsored a global competition called GoFly, with $2 million in prizes to create a personal flying device.  Just this past week, they announced the designs of the 10 finalists.  They received designs from 95 countries totaling more than 3,000 entries.

The rules for the contest were straight forward.  The personal flying device must be safe, quiet, ultra-compact, capable of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), and be able carry someone 20 miles without refueling.  While it sounds a lot like a jetpack, in reality, the finalists’ designs look more like oversize drones or flying motorcycles. You can check them out here https://bit.ly/2l9RKhW.

The next steps in the contest are building prototypes by March 2019 and flight tests in the fall of 2019.

But this isn’t a new initiative in the field of aviation technology.  Google Co-Founder Larry Page has developed a flying car with his company Kitty Hawk.  Last month, CNN reporter Rachel Crane, took the prototype out for a controlled flight over water, described the controls as similar to an old Atari joystick and a sliding knob.  

Both Kitty Hawk and Uber want to get to full-fledged flying cars.  UberAir even has the stated goal of starting their flying taxi service by 2023.  

I can already hear you asking, “But what about those jet packs?”.  Believe it or not jetpacks do exist.  At least one anyway.  The current problem with jet packs are they burn too much fuel and are too loud.  Battery capacity isn’t there yet to make an electric jetpack feasible. As a result, those hurdles have caused many companies (including Google) to stop working on jetpack technology.

The idea behind the GoFly contest is similar to other contests used in the early 2000s for autonomous vehicles.  The contests help drive innovation. And now we are on the verge of self-driving cars with passengers to go along with the self-driving semi-tractor trailers already hauling goods.

Other existing technology has played a key role in advancing key elements of “flying cars”.  The gyroscope sensors used in your cell phone help pave the way by automatically creating stable flights for drones or other VTOL aircraft.

But don’t expect to see people zipping across the sky even if all the technical barriers are defeated.   There will need to be a lot of rules and regulations to be sorted out, including pilot training, navigating urban airspace, and communicating between aircraft.  Only time will tell if we can get to the practical application phase of truly widespread personal flying devices.

 

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