What was once considered a far-fetched piece of Sci-Fi lore appears to be quickly coming to fruition, as luxury automaker Lexus announced the other day that it had created one of the most advanced hoverboards ever developed with the help of a team of super conductive technology specialists. The bamboo-topped hoverboard operates by using magnetic levitation to stay off the ground, while liquid nitrogen cooled superconductors keep everything running smoothly, all while emitting a layer of “steam” that adds to the board’s overall space-age allure. The fourth project in a campaign designed to showcase the creativity and innovation behind the Lexus brand, this latest creation will soon undergo further testing in Barcelona, Spain.
“At Lexus, we constantly challenge ourselves and our partners to push the boundaries of what is possible,” said Mark Templin, executive vice president of Lexus International. While that is indeed a noble cause, we remain interested in what Hiroyoshi Yoshiki, a managing officer in Toyota’s Technical Administration Group, said last June at the Bloomberg Next Big Thing Summit in Sausalito, Calif. “It’s very confidential information but we have been studying the flying car in our most advanced R&D area,” he said. “Flying car means the car is just a little bit away from the road, so it doesn’t have any friction or resistance from the road.”
If Lexus does indeed manage to get a car off the ground, it won’t be zipping around in the lower stratosphere, but instead it will float above the earth much like Luke Skywalker’s Landspeeder or the hoverboard pictured above. While this may sound underwhelming to some, it is a huge step toward energy efficiency, as zero contact with the road means higher speeds and lower fuel consumption.
But Lexus isn’t the only one out there with a horse in this race, as everyone from crackpot garage engineers resembling Dr. Emmett Brown from Back to the Future to Slovakian tech firm Aeromobil are racing against one another to be the first to make the flying car a reality. While there has yet to be a single car that can successfully complete an “above average aerospace peregrination,” there have been some significant developments in recent years that keep all of us looking to the skies for answers.
Outside of Lexus, the aforementioned Slovak AeroMobil is probably the closest thing we have to a company that can make flying cars. But things aren’t going so well for the Bratislava-based company, as just a few weeks back its “vehicle of the future” spread its lightweight wings and plummeted to earth during a test flight. AeroMobil chief strategy officer Martin Bruncko doesn’t seem daunted, saying, “Sometimes you have to push the vehicle to the limit, to see how it behaves,” and since inventor Stefan Klein (who was flying the contraption when it fell 885 feet) was not hurt, it is back to the drawing board once more for the engineering team.
If all goes well with this next prototype, Aeromobil will begin taking pre-orders in 2017 so that it may begin vehicle deliveries in 2018. While they wait on a green-light from the European Aviation Safety Agency, countries like Indonesia, Russia, and South Africa continue to clamor loudly for these $560,000 machines. Half a million dollars for a car may sound like a lot, but when was the last time you priced an airplane? This thing is designed to do it all, from parking in a garage to filling-up at any gas station, this vehicle is designed to be functional on the ground at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour, and in the air at over 120 miles per hour once its wings automatically unfold for takeoff. Up in the atmosphere the half-ton car is designed to travel as far as 545 miles on a single tank of fuel, thanks to a rear-mounted 100-horsepower Rotax 912 engine.
As Aeromobil continues to stress that shifting traffic outside of the road is necessary for making personal transportation sustainable in the future, we step back and look at their biggest obstacle: the governing laws and regulations surrounding vehicles. It’s not a car nor a plane, and it stands as a legitimate threat to anyone below if something were to go awry with either pilot or machine. So until governments can figure out how they are going to safely regulate these machines and the people that fly/drive them, Aeromobil is stuck in limbo as they redesign the latest version of their contraption.
While autonomous flying technology is a safety feature that is sure to offer a strong argument for the legalization of such vehicles, it is hard to ignore the fact that many people cannot afford a car of this caliber, and that many Americans remain positively terrified of flying. So maybe Lexus’ “hover approach” isn’t such a bad idea after all: With companies like Terrafugia, Xplorair, and Urban Aeronautics racing against the clock and each other to create the world’s first flying car, we cannot help but wonder how crowded those friendly skies of ours will one day become.