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CEO Tom Enders is taking Airbus, a leading, global aerospace company into new territory by developing and testing a self-piloted, flying car in 2017. Airbus has the technological ability and resources to test these kinds of bold ideas, and it takes a bold leader daring enough to make it happen. He believes the time is right to take advantage of new technologies such as autonomous driving and artificial intelligence.

George Jetson, Marti McFly, that crazy cab driver in the Fifth Element—flying cars have captured our imagination for decades.  In books, sci-fi movies, and even cartoons, the vehicle of our dreams has tantalized us from as far back as 1904, when Jules Verne introduced a combination boat/car/plane. Although sometimes it seems like technology takes forever to catch up with what humans can imagine, great things can be worth waiting for.

Has technology finally caught up with over a century of imagining? We shall soon know. Airbus’s goal is to be the first to usher in the era of flying car by testing the prototype for a self-piloted flying car by the end of 2017.  Enders points out that in addition to reducing traffic congestion and travel time, flying vehicles could also reduce infrastructure costs. “With flying, you don’t need to pour billions into concrete bridges and roads.”

Airbus is joining fierce, seasoned competition. Flying cars have been on drawing boards around the globe for years. Among the companies vying to be the first to develop a safe, practical, and street legal vehicle are several with a big head start—for example, Moller, International (since 1983), the Slovakian company, Airmobile (since 1990) and the American company Terrafugia (since 2006).

Manufacturers must overcome some significant hurdles before we see a sky filled with cars. Without even considering the government vehicle safety and driver licensing requirements, the cars will need to be street legal, quiet (to avoid noise complaints), and have non-exposed rotors (for safe flying in urban environments). To be practical, the cars will have to take off and land in short distances and fit in a typical parking space.  Propulsion systems must be powerful to lift the vehicle and produce emissions that meet air quality standards.

Flying cars promise the bold impact of reduced traffic congestion, shorter and safer (and perhaps more fun) commutes, and lower infrastructure costs. How soon might we begin to reap some of these benefits? Airbus CEO sees its ‘flying car’ prototype ready by the end of the year.

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