New Design Unveiled for Autonomous Flying Car

There’s no doubt that the 21st century has brought many instances of radical technological change. But doesn’t it seem like the coolest retro-future ideas from those 1950s science expos never materialized? Where are the jet packs, the lunar shuttles, the flying cars?

Now this is more like it.

There’s no doubt that the 21st century has brought many instances of radical technological change. But doesn’t it seem like the coolest retro-future ideas from those 1950s science expos never materialized? Where are the jet packs, the lunar shuttles, the flying cars?

Well, we may have the flying cars covered — and relatively soon, too. This week, the MIT-affiliated private company Terrafugia released new designs for its TF-X flying autonomous vehicle.

Like the company’s original flying car model, the Transition, the TF-X is a bonafide, Jetsons-style auto-airplane hybrid, designed to be FAA-approved in the air and street legal on the roads. (In fact, the Transition has already been successfully flight-tested.)

The TF-X takes things to another level, however, by adding vertical take-off and landing capabilities, plus a fully autonomous piloting system. The idea is to jump into the TF-X, state your designated landing zone, and then let the vehicle itself handle the rest, on the roads and in the air.

The TF-X flies by way of twin electric-powered motors built into the vehicle’s fold-out wings. The 300-hp engines power two tilting rotors that shift from vertical to horizontal to accommodate take off, cruising and landing. Cruising speed is around 200 mph, with a 500-mph flight range.

The rotors and wings fold into the body of the vehicle when driving on roads. The TF-X can seat four people and is designed to fit into a standard single-car garage space. For take off and landing, the vehicle requires a level clearing 10 feet diameter.

On the system software end, Terrafugia plans to integrate a fully autonomous flight system able to avoid other air traffic, adjust for weather conditions and handle emergency situations.

A backup full-vehicle parachute system will engage if things really go sideways. Users will also be able to fly the TF-X manually, though the plan is to have a comprehensive auto-pilot system that users can learn in a matter of hours.

As of now, it’s all in the early stages of design. Terrafugia plans on 8-12 years of further development, as there are many, many hurdles still to jump — both technological and legislative. But projections are more or less in line with what experts expect for autonomous vehicle development in general. Here’s a digital visualization of the TF-X in action:



DNews |  BY GLENN MCDONALD

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