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The Idealog guide to personal flying machines

The Idealog guide to personal flying machines

A self-flying taxi has been undergoing trials in Canterbury. Cool as it is, we take a look at other attempts at transporting humans in the sky.

Top image: Pal-V 

Flying. Yes, a lot of people hate it. A lot of folks love it, too. But facts are facts: cramming large amounts of people into a narrow tube, and having them sit for several hours while surrounded by literally tens of thousands (and sometimes more) of litres of fuel, and paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars per person for such an experience (not to mention the ever-present risk of “unexpected arrivals” – check out the late George Carlin’s profanity-laden rant about that)

But we also all dream of our own personal flying machines, don’t we? Being able to soar above traffic in a short – and mercifully stress-free – commute into work?

Well, it could be a thing soon. Really.

Amid exciting news that a company called Kitty Hawk (backed by Google co-founder Larry Page and run by Sebastian Thrun, who helped start Google’s autonomous car unit as the director of Google X) has been testing a self-flying taxi in Canterbury, we take a look at other innovations in airborne human (and pizza - more on that later) transportation. Warning: not all of them have been able to stick the proverbial landing.

Martin Jetpacks

Seems like the idea of the Martin Jetpack has been around forever – the butt of wisecracks and back-to-childhood secret longings. The announcement that the company has done its first deal – a memorandum of understanding for 20 Jetpacks and two simulators, plus training and maintenance, signed with the United Arab Emirates’ civil defence and fire service earlier this month, suddenly brings the jetpack into “shit, they might really be going somewhere with this thing” territory.

That’s what we wrote about Martin Jetpack back in 2015. Since then, they’ve basically gone bust, getting suspended from share trading and de-listing from the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX). Oh, and they also posted a $5.4 million half-yearly loss this past December, and owe $10 million to a shareholder by September – an amount that PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) auditors say means the future of this company is very much in doubt.

A shame, really, since the concept sounded pretty cool. Here’s to hoping someone, one day, will get right what Martin Jetpacks seems to have got wrong. Or maybe people just aren’t into jetpacks like sci-fi thinks they are?

Flying cars

This, of course, has been a goal as long as cars have been around. And they’re already a reality in a way. The problem: they’re not available to regular folks. But things are changing – or hopefully changing.

Dutch aircraft manufacturer Pal-V has launched a flying car that can both be driven in the traditional sense, and also fly – and convert between the two (think Optimus Prime in Transformers) in fewer than 10 minutes.

The company calls it the “world’s first flying car production model,” with the Pal-V Liberty debuting at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this month. Powered by a 200-horsepower engine, it can accelerate from 0 to160 kilometres per hour in nine seconds, and fly at a top speed of 180 kilometres per hour (which, it should be noted, is slower than some birds, such as the peregrine falcon). It can carry two people (a driver/pilot – drilot? – and passenger) – but they both need to have pilot’s licences to be allowed to legally operate the vehicle. They’re also expected to cost a minimum of 299,000 euros (more than $500,000) at a minimum. So we might just have to wait for the day when we don’t have to take out a loan we’d never come close to qualifying for. Unfortunately.

IFO

That’s right – IFO. Not a UFO, but an Identified Flying Object. Looking like something straight out of The Jetsons (yes, we’re a future-focused outlet, but we love ourselves some early Space Age nostalgia), this flying saucer-shaped vehicle is five metres wide and can seat two people. Powered by eight electric motors, it can reach a top speed of more than 190 kilometres per hour. We would totally buy one just to say we get around in a flying saucer.

Planes

Planes have been around longer than anyone reading this has been alive. They’re proven, and effective, despite the frequent complaints and occasional mishap.

But plane design – at least for civilians – hasn’t changed a whole bunch in the past 50 years. That could soon change, however, with things such as Boeing’s under-development Blended Wing Body Airlifter and a slew of electric-hybrid prototypes currently being tested. And, of course, there seems to be constant chatter about bringing back the Concorde.

But if we’re being honest, some of the features of planes currently in the sky aren’t too shabby.

Airships

Ever heard of the Hindenburg? Yeah, that’s one reason why airships aren’t really a thing anymore. Other reasons include the ridiculously high cost of tickets, the fact they’re a fair bit slower than modern planes, and their association (partially thanks to Hollywood) with a certain government in Germany just before the middle of the last century. But surely there are enough steampunks in the world to make this a viable business?

Flying bicycles

Believe it or not, this is actually a thing. Kind of. Have to admit, “Flike” is a pretty catchy name.

Flying boats

These have been things for a long time. They’re called seaplanes.

Helicopters

You know what these are.

Flirtey

It’s 5.30pm. You want a pizza. But you really don’t feel like going out when it’s freezing and practically raining buckets. But you also realise delivery could take FOREVER – it is rush hour, after all.

News flash: the entire above scenario is ridiculous. Because, by the end of this year, ordinary folks in Aotearoa like us will be able to have our pizzas delivered by drone. Seriously.

That’s what we wrote about Flirtey a few months ago. Flirtey delivers things by drone – like the world’s first drone pizza delivery (to then-Transport Minister Simon Bridges) in August 2016. Though there were plans for ordinary folks to be able to have their pizzas delivered by drone in Auckland by the end of 2017, that unfortunately does not seem to have happened yet (yes, we are absolutely devastated – and more than slightly disappointed). But we’re holding out hope.

Transporters

They worked (most of the time, anyway – though the results were pretty horrifying when they didn’t) in Star Trek, so they can work in real life, right?

Actually, there is serious research being done into this very thing. So far, scientists have managed to beam photons away. Perhaps one day we could be in need of something to do on a Saturday afternoon, and transport ourselves to the Amazon for a trek? Or commute from Aotearoa to Alaska every day for work, in under two seconds? Or to impress a Tinder date take them to that hot new restaurant you heard about in Tokyo? The possibilities are endless.

But we can’t emphasise the risks enough. And what about the age-old question of if you de-materialise and then are reassembled somewhere else, are you still you? As in, are transporters really mass-murder machines? Eat your heart out, philosophers of the future.

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