Will flying cars take off anytime soon?
Back in 1940, one of the pioneers of the modern automobile industry, Henry Ford famously predicted “Mark my words: a combination of airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come.” Yet, here we are in 2018, still relegated to our backward, land-based automobiles. Here we are, stuck in a traffic jam, when instead we could’ve taken to the sky and reached for the stars.
“Where’s my flying car?”, you may ask, and you would be right to. There have been countless prototypes, but none of them have reached widespread production or use.
Currently, the obstacles include astronomical costs, unsustainably low efficiency, noise levels being above acceptable ranges, and the inability to attain required vertical takeoff levels.
So if there were to be flying cars in the future what are the possible ways that they could work?
It is possible that magnetic levitation could be the answer. Maglev trains already exist, they however currently only elevate the trains by a few centimeters. In the future, our roads could be superseded by a material that is magnetic in nature and that enables the creation of a magnetic field that makes the automobiles hover. The roads could also be multipurpose (serving the purpose of both conventional roads and a medium to establish magnetic air travel) with a layer of bitumen over a layer of copper. A magnetic engine on the vehicle would create a primary magnetic field, which induces eddy currents on the conducting surface, which in turn causes a secondary magnetic field to repel the primary field. This negates the effect of gravity and suspends the vehicle at a height dependent on the magnetic field. The magnetic engine on the vehicle controls and manipulates the strength and direction field, so that the airborne vehicle moves in different directions.
Furthermore, if high/room temperature superconductors that can be easily manufactured are created, the burdensome task of magnetizing roads is resolved. Once these superconductors are designed, super magnets can be built with little to no cost. Super magnets are extremely strong magnets and can lift vehicles up to tens of meters in height. All it would take is a gentle push for the vehicle to start moving, with almost no loss of momentum due to lack of friction.
This would also bring about the invention of the hoverboard as seen in the classic ‘Back to the Future’, which is still considered the norm for an “actual” hoverboard.
Such a capacity to move vertically and horizontally would go a long way in reducing traffic-related issues. Higher efficiency is another feature since friction is nearly nonexistent. However, there would always be height and movement constrictions due to an upper limit on the height and restriction on road widths.
Although all this is technically “flying”, it doesn’t conform to the preconceived notion of flying cars in everyone’s mind. To travel like Ron Weasley’s enchanted car in ‘The Chamber of Secrets’ the whole 3-dimensional space would have to be mapped by the magnets, which is very far-fetched. Instead, it could consist of an attachable system that fits on top of the vehicle. With the advent of superconductors, the propellers can be powered by the current in a superconducting loop. This would increase efficiency drastically while also reducing noise levels and make the required vertical takeoff possible. The rest of the vehicle’s working would imitate that of existing helicopters.
As of now though, the best alternative is attaching a hot air balloon above your car to experience in-car air travel.