Will Your Next Car Fly?


Friday, January 24, 2014

Along with robots and ray guns, the 21st century was definitely supposed to include flying cars. We have pretty decent robots, and all kinds of lasers (including the ones that tease your cat). As for the flying cars, there is a very small, well-funded race among a few entrepreneurs to make this sci-fi trope a reality. Terrafugia outside Boston, Aeromobil in Slovakia, and PAL-V in The Netherlands have all made prototypes — even the Pentagon is working on a DARPA Transformer (TX).

In Davis, California, Moller International is developing a vertical take-off vehicle called the Skycar that looks like a race car, with two engines on the side and three smaller ones attached to a spoiler on the back. Paul Moller says the vehicle can travel over 300 miles per hour; so far they’ve only hovered around the parking lot. Unlike a helicopter, which makes you feel “like you’ve been lifted from above by a crane,” he explains, “in this thing you feel like you’re being lifted from below” — the flying carpet feeling.

But if you’re worried about traffic jams between buildings — memorably shot in The Fifth Element — Moller says, “It’s not logical that this vehicle be down at street level and going between buildings.” He thinks his Skycars will probably stream into cities on designated skyways a thousand feet in the air, controlled by autopilot. If and when we realize the dream of flying cars, it won’t be long before we get sick of riding in them. And then we’ll ask: Where’s my teleporter?  


Slideshow: Moller International’s Skycar

The <em>M200 Neuera</em>, Paul Moller's first flying car prototype.
Photo by Eric Molinsky

The M200 Neuera, Paul Moller’s first flying car prototype.

Moller’s second prototype, the <em>M400</em>.
Photo by Eric Molinsky

Moller’s second prototype, the M400.

Produced by:

Eric Molinsky

Comments [7]

During this episode, I kept thinking about how you missed out on the book, "Make It So: Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction".

Amazon link:

Author's talk at the BoingBoing conference:

I'd love to hear an interview with Noessel if you can have him on the next show.

Feb. 05 2014 11:38 AM
Kilian Metcalf from Tucson AZ

I think if you want to talk about what is left out, you could explore the misogyny, rudeness, and outright hatred directed at women writers from the men who are working in a field, science-fiction writing, that was essentially created by a woman. Apparently the behavior of the male members of the Science Fiction Writers Association is so egregious that there is a Kickstarter campaign to help women writers to destroy science fiction. Since they have been accused of doing this very thing, they've decided to run with it. Here's a link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lightspeedmagazine/women-destroy-science-fiction They've already exceeded their goal and have 1000+ backers.

Jan. 28 2014 12:53 AM
Havoc Mcklusky

Poor journalism. did you do any research. The model above in the picture, the one you also describe as the new one is one of moller's earliest mockups, not the latest one. Moller has been saying 'soon' for about 50 years. He has no more money end recent attempts to secure funding has failed. This company will never produce a flying vehicle. Longest running techno-scam ever.

Jan. 28 2014 12:22 AM
Charlie Roemer from Howard Beach, NY

The next program should include alternate forms and definitions of gender and sexuality imagined by Ursula K. LeGuin in "The Left Hand of Darkness" and elsewhere, as well as other authors.

Jan. 27 2014 09:10 PM
Greg from Silicon Valley

Great piece, but missing zee.aero which is a stealth company, likely funded by Google, in Silicon Valley. That would have been a nice "get" for this segment.

Jan. 27 2014 02:13 PM
Bob from CT

Moller has failed for 40 years to produce a device that can fly, and has wasted millions of dollars doing so. They even had to pay an SEC fine in 2003.

I expect better journalism from NPR - you just need to read the wikipedia articles to get a clue.

We already have flying cars, they're call helicopters, and they are loud, expensive, and waste fuel. If you don't like traffic jams, take a train.

Jan. 25 2014 06:08 PM

Regarding the first photo with the red car - according to the US law no part of the american flag may touch the ground. Sad, but it does in this garage.

Jan. 25 2014 06:16 AM

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