The Times October 26 2016,
A prototype of a flying car being developed by the Google co-founder Larry Page has been spotted — and it’s not nearly as sleek as Back to the Future’s DeLorean DMC-12. But some experts believe that the vehicle represents the future of your commute, even if it does not let you time travel.
The prototype from Zee.Aero, one of two flying-car companies said to be funded by Mr Page, was seen at the airport at Hollister, California, where the business has a hangar.
Employees of a nearby aero turbines company said that they had seen the aircraft take off vertically, hover about 7.5m above the tarmac, then land. “It sounded like an electric motor running, just a high-pitched whine,” Steve Eggleston, who took the photograph, said.
Zee.Aero would not comment but the aircraft photographed resembles drawings that the company submitted in a patent three years ago. The design cannot be properly analysed from the image, but experts said the fixed wing must incorporate horizontal rotors to provide the necessary thrust for a vertical take-off. This would fit with the old patent drawings, and the propeller pictured at the back would provide forward motion.
There is also speculation the vehicle could be self-flying, or semi-autonomous. The “car” is not roadworthy, with relatively tiny wheels, but gets the name because owners could take off and land from a driveway and use it day to day.
The prototype is not the only flying car with vertical take-off abilities in development but is considered significant because of Mr Page’s record as a tech visionary.
After decades of appearances in popular culture, such as the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and working models dating back to the 1940s that never took off commercially, experts say mass-market flying cars are coming much closer. Reasons include better, more efficient batteries, lower-cost aviation electronics, lower manufacturing costs and better automated systems — the consequences of advances in drone design.
There’s no price or launch date for Zee.Aero’s vehicle but companies such as AeroMobil and Terrafugia plan to sell flying cars for several hundred thousand pounds.
Tim Robinson, editor of Aerospace magazine, said: “The idea of flying cars has been there as long as there have been cars and planes. However, the technology really seems to be converging and now you’ve got people like Page and Airbus involved, there is serious momentum.”
The Airbus subsidiary A³ is working on a self-piloted flying car for one passenger or cargo and seems to have a similar vision to Mr Page. Despite the received wisdom that flying cars are best suited to longer-distance travel in relatively quiet airspace, the company’s Project Vahana vehicle is designed to address “rising transportation challenges in metropolitan areas”.
The company says that motorists in London spend the equivalent of 35 working days a year idling in traffic. It is aiming to fly a full-size prototype before the end of next year and to have a market-ready vehicle by 2020. It believes that automated flying cars could revolutionise urban travel for millions of people in as little as ten years.
Rodin Lyasoff, A³ chief executive, said: “We seek to help enable truly vertical cities by opening up urban airways. We believe full automation will allow us to achieve higher safety by minimising human error. Our aircraft will follow predetermined flight paths, with only minor deviations if obstacle avoidance is needed. We believe this mode of operation will be compatible with future airspace management systems and will allow more aircraft to share the sky.”
Google buys system that controls gadgets with just a look
Google knows what you look at online, but it could soon find out what you’re looking at in everyday life, too, after it acquired a Silicon Valley startup that has pioneered eye-tracking technology.
The system from Eyefluence lets you use your eyes as a mouse while wearing a virtual-reality headset or augmented-reality glasses, enabling the real world to be seen through a computer display. It could be used to play games such as whack-a-mole with eye movements, or take a picture of something just by looking at it. It could also be a lifeline to people with disabilities, who could use it to control devices such as their television.
Mark Skilton, professor of practice at Warwick Business School, said that Google may use the technology to collect and profit from data on what users look at. Facebook and Microsoft have also been investing heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality.