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Flying cars on the horizon

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In the movie Back to the Future, the main character, Marty McFly travels from 1989 to 2015. Many of the “futuristic” technologies he encounters have become common in our day-to-day lives – in fact, many were available way before 2015 – but some are still seemingly impossible to achieve.

Flying cars on the horizonWhile we aren’t going to get a hoverboard any time soon (although there are a number of companies who have produced prototypes that can fly for a few minutes at a time), it seems that flying cars may soon become a reality. Porsche is in the early stages of drawing up a blueprint of a flying car, as are a number of other auto manufacturers, and it is expected that they will be able to launch in real traffic in about 10 years.

Volkswagen's auto designer Italdesign and Airbus exhibited a two-seater flying car called Pop.Up at the recent Geneva auto show. “We are looking into how individual mobility can take place in congested areas where today and in future it is unlikely that everyone can drive the way he wants,” Porsche’s head of R&D, Michael Steiner said.

Flying cars will probably end up being the next evolution of another trend that is yet to see mainstream use: Autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars. Experiments have been conducted on automating driving since at least the 1920s, according to Wikipedia, and Tsukuba Mechanical Engineering Lab in Japan created the first autonomous, intelligent, vehicle in 1977. It tracked white street markers and achieved speeds up to 30km per hour.

Today’s autonomous cars can reach much higher speeds, and many are in advanced tests where they are driving human “safety drivers” around American cities. In California, there have already been seven separate “incidents” with autonomous vehicles, with at least two involving humans according to the US Department of Motor Vehicles. These, however, were deliberately incited by the humans.

According to the safety driver of a Cruise AV that was driving through San Francisco, the autonomous car was stopped behind a taxi when the taxi driver got out, approached the Cruise AV, and “slapped the front passenger window, causing a scratch”.  A few weeks earlier, another Cruise AV was waiting to make a right-hand turn, pausing to allow pedestrians to cross. “A different pedestrian from the southwest corner ran across Valencia, ignoring the ‘Do Not Walk’ sign. The man was shouting, and struck the left side of the Cruise AV’s rear bumper and hatch with his entire body. There were no injuries, but the Cruise AV sustained some damage to its left rear light,” that car’s safety driver reported.

South Africa will only see its first public autonomous vehicle trials during transport month in October this year. According to Executive Director of the Mobility Centre for Africa (MCA), Victor Radebe, one of two electric-powered vehicles are being considered for the test: The Z10 by EasyMile and the ARMA vehicle by Navya (both headquartered in France).

These trials are aimed at “determining public perception, viability, and deployment capability”. Durban’s beachfront, Sandton’s Gautrain station, the CSIR’s innovation hub at the University of Pretoria, and the V&A Waterfront have all been earmarked as possible test locations.

Image credit: Copyright: chagpg / 123RF Stock Photo

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