back to article Look! Up in the sky! Is it a drone? Is it a car? It's both, crossed with Uber

Airbus and italdesign have offered the world a hybrid car/copter concept that they think can Make The World A Better Place™. The “Pop.Up System” starts with innovative punctuation and then offers us the vision of a two-seater “carbon-fibre passenger capsule” that mates with a “battery-powered ground module” or an “air module …

  1. AMBxx Silver badge
    Joke

    IoT

    Perhaps we could have IoT transport - drones descend from the sky and pick you up with little hooks. Charged by the kilo as bigger people need more drones.

    Time to head for kickstarter?

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: IoT

      "IoT transport - drones descend from the sky and pick you up with little hooks"

      Surely that's Internet of Talons.

    2. Haku

      Re: IoT

      "drones descend from the sky and pick you up with little hooks"

      Drones with sky hooks? Genius!

  2. Jos V

    not new...

    I think they might be late to the game as Dubai is launching the service in July..

    http://fortune.com/2017/02/16/dubai-travel-drones-air-taxi-ehang-184/

    It looks cool, but I'll wait a bit to let the wrinkles to be ironed out.

  3. dan1980

    ". . . which of course neglects the very real possibility the electricity charging those batteries was generated in a coal-or-oil-fuelled power plant."

    Absolutely. But . . .

    The internal combustion engine that powers current most current personal transport (of the type we are discussing) is designed to use fossil fuels and connect be easily converted to another substance. Some make use - either partially or entirely - of biofuels but, largely, it's fossil fuels.

    The thing about a battery powered car is that it is utterly agnostic as to how the electricity fed into its batteries is produced. Sure, there are practical considerations around charge time and efficiency and the effects on battery life but a battery fully charged with electricity generated via solar power is exactly as effective as a battery fully charged with electricity generated via burning coal.

    That's the real benefit to battery-powered vehicles: they can make use of any any source of electricity, which means that, should a solar powered recharging station pop-up, your car will become non-polluting overnight, with no changes to the car itself.

    One day, running your car requires the burning of coal; the next day it doesn't.

    That's a simplification of course and ignores certain logistic issues but the point remains: a battery-powered car is as environmentally-friendly as the source of power it uses.

    This also offers another benefit. Say you really only drive your (battery-powered) car to do the chores on the weekend. If you had a decent solar setup, you could have your car charged up and ready, without generating any pollution. BUT, if you did need to go somewhere else, or refill part-way on a longer trip, you could use more conventional electricity sources. And then, once that's done, go back to your weekly solar-powered runs.

    An internal combustion engine simply doesn't have that flexibility.

    Of course, there is a long road ahead before all the elements are in place - better batteries, faster charging and better distribution of recharging stations - but the underlying concept is the important part and it's only going to improve.

    The short version is that an electric car is able to make use of the most efficient energy generation available but is not limited to it.

    Off topic a bit but whatever . . .

    1. Christian Berger Silver badge

      You're missing the point that...

      A flying car needs _much_ more energy than a regular one, perhaps 10 times as much. So wherever that electricity comes from, using a "regular" electric car is always much more efficient, it'll always use _much_ less fossil fuels.

      And I'm not even talking about flying cars needing lighter batteries like lithium-ion ones which are expensive and we don't have enough of that material on earth. For the same range you can build a regular car with lead acid batteries.

      The problem why this vehicle works with electricity probably is either for marketing reasons or for reliability issues which are important for military applications.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        @Christian Berger - "don't have enough of that material on earth"

        Don't have enough lithium? Seriously?? It makes up 0.0017% of the Earth's crust. That may not sound like much, but the thing about the Earth's crust is that there's rather a lot of it. 0.0017% is twice the abundance of lead and 9x the abundance of tin, and I've never heard anyone worry about running out of either.

        I gather you've probably read some alarmist article that does math based on known "reserves" of lithium and yearly production, to see what happens if every car uses lithium batteries, we use them for home energy storage, etc. and says "OMG we only have a decade's worth!" Reserves beyond a few decades are meaningless, because if you have 50 years of known reserves of something, no one is going to pay to explore to find 50 more years of reserves.

        The best information I could find said lithium production in 2014 was 36,000 metric tons. Compare with the amount of lithium dissolved in seawater, estimated at 230 billion tons. That's a tiny tiny fraction of the amount in the Earth's crust. I think we're fine. If demand goes up, people will spend money to look for more lithium, and they will find it, because its literally everywhere.

    2. Paul Kinsler

      "The internal combustion engine" [...] is designed to use fossil fuels

      Actually, it's designed to burn hydrocarbons, the fact that we mostly get those hydrocarbons from fossil sources is a side issue.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: "The internal combustion engine" [...] is designed to use fossil fuels

        >The concept assumes the ground and air modules will be battery-powered and therefore more environmentally-friendly than petrol-burning cars, which of course neglects the very real possibility the electricity charging those batteries was generated in a coal-or-oil-fuelled power plant.

        It neglects nothing. Whilst burning fossil fuels is likely to play a part in generating said electricity, these fuels aren't being burnt in densely populated cities, i.e in the environment that many people live in. CO2 emissions are a concern, but in a city other emissions and soot are a real health issue.

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge

          Re: "The internal combustion engine" [...] is designed to use fossil fuels

          CO2 emissions are a concern, but in a city other emissions and soot are a real health issue.

          There's also the aspect that a stationary power plant can have what would be otherwise waste heat used as block heating and other such uses, and CO2 is being used for improved yield in greenhouses. And if you look at the "well to wheel" efficiency of a modern car with an internal combustion engine, it's about 14%, where an electric car can manage around double that.

      2. jmch Silver badge

        Re: "The internal combustion engine" [...] is designed to use fossil fuels

        Correct.

        If solar panels, wind farms etc instead of feeding electricity to the grid, were powering some apparatus to convert CO2 and water into hydrocarbons, you could burn the fuel thus produced with an almost net zero emissions. (almost due to process inefficiencies).

        Hydrocarbons have a far higher energy density than even the best batteries, AND their weight is removed from the vehicle once they are used, as opposed to batteries that weigh the same charged or empty. MUCH more suited to aviation

        1. dan1980

          Re: "The internal combustion engine" [...] is designed to use fossil fuels

          jmch

          "Hydrocarbons have a far higher energy density than even the best batteries . . ."

          Which is why they are such a superlative fuel source and the dominant one.

          The question is whether battery technology will advance to such a stage that they can, once you consider the reduced weight of electric motors vs an engine and all the guff that goes with it, rival hydrocarbons.

          Batteries have SO many benefits, they just suck at energy density. At the moment . . .

      3. dan1980

        Re: "The internal combustion engine" [...] is designed to use fossil fuels

        @Paul Kinsler

        I take your point but I would offer that these engines really are designed specifically to burn fossil fuels. Different hydrocarbons have different properties and these properties matter to the operation of the engine.

        Take biodiesel. If you put 100% biodiesel into a regular diesel engine it may work but it is likely to cause damage - if not in the immediate future then further down the track. That is why using biodiesel (at least at higher mixtures) tends to void your warranty and (e.g.) cars may specify the allowable percentage of biodisel.

        Likewise petrol cars. Yes, like diesel, you can generally use low percentage ethanol blends with no ill effects but not 50%. Indeed, most cars list the specific fuel you should use and the reason is that the engine has been designed with a specific rating in mind.

        It is, of course, possible to design an engine to run specifically from biofuels but the reality is that the overwhelming majority of engines are designed to use fossil fuels instead.

        The point is that, while different hydrocarbons may be able to be used, engines are designed to utilise one specific type and, even when an engine will work with different blends of hydrocarbons, there is usually a trade-off - either in power or longevity (though at lower blends, this is very slight). A battery-powered electric car is able to use any source of electricity available without any performance impact.

        1. Scunner

          Re: "The internal combustion engine" [...] is designed to use fossil fuels

          "I take your point but I would offer that these engines really are designed specifically to burn fossil fuels. "

          Yes, modern internal combustion engines are tuned to burn specific fuels. This is a good thing, as building a general purpose "can burn anything" engine would be likely to involve making compromises which would lower efficiency - you noted this yourself in your point about engines using different blends. But this really is besides the point. Modern engines are only designed for fossil fuels because this is what's available today in bulk quantities, relatively low cost, and with a widely established supply chain to enable you to get more of them wherever you are.

          If someone came up with a scalable way of making a cheaper hydrocarbon fuel from renewable sources we'd all be using that instead in very short order - existing vehicles would be retired or adapted to the new fuel type as need be. Biofuels haven't managed that so far, and have also suffered from the political implications of edible crops for bioethanol in countries where there are people who don't have enough to eat. There are people looking into using the sea to produce a biomass source (algae) as the raw material for biofuel, to avoid this competition for arable land. As far as I know it's still early days yet, but it would be foolish to write it this off just because the fuels we use in our vehicles at the moment have fossil origins.

  4. Christian Berger Silver badge

    And if you think about it for more than 10 minutes...

    a) It takes much more energy than a car as it needs to fly, so it's worse than a car.

    b) Even if it manages to get around congestion, which is a typical argument for flying cars, experience has shown that this will just lead to even more (flying-)car traffic, eliminating all advantages.

    c) This clearly has very little use for civilian purposes, however it's attractive for special uses like in the military.

    Let me elaborate on c):

    Since it becomes more and more obvious that the military isn't a very ethical place to work for, companies like Airbus probably have problems getting good people. The concept of a flying car is cool, there's no question about it. It doesn't make much sense on a mass scale, but it's cool. Therefore when an engineer has to choose between going to a car company designing the 100th version of a seat heater controller and going to a company making flying cars, they are much more likely to go to the flying car company. Plus since this poses as a civilian project, they can always fool themselves into not working on military projects.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: And if you think about it for more than 10 minutes...

      Conventional helicopters were developed for military use. However, they have been bloody useful for search and rescue, air ambulances, disaster relief and coast guard operations.

      The same is true of so many technologies. So why make the point about the transportation concept outlined in this article?

      It's a logistics concept system. Like... the idea of using pallets and forklift trucks to easily shift lots of stuff around. You guessed it, the pallet and forklift system was developed in the Pacific theatre during WWII. The use of shipping containers revolutionised civilian shipping and trade, but hey, they are convenient standard shape to use as a site office or generator set - by both civilian and military users.

      Basically, if an engineer develops any transportation system that is cheaper, more reliable, more efficient, quieter etc it will be of interest to the military.

    2. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: And if you think about it for more than 10 minutes...

      "a) It takes much more energy than a car as it needs to fly, so it's worse than a car."

      No, it takes more energy to fly the same distance, all else being equal. If a ground car has to take a long, windy route and constantly gets stuck in traffic, while the flying one can do a direct route with no delays, it's no longer cut and dried. It's easy to come up with various scenarios in which one or the other is more efficient; the real question is which would be better in a given practical setting, and that can only be answered on an individual basis.

      "b) Even if it manages to get around congestion, which is a typical argument for flying cars, experience has shown that this will just lead to even more (flying-)car traffic, eliminating all advantages."

      Nonsense. Firstly, it's important to note that adding an extra dimension changes everything. You can only fit a certain number of cars on a limited 2D network of roads, and adding a new road or coming up with better routing can only ever give a small fractional increase each time. Flying gives you effectively unlimited extra space to use - just divide the atmosphere into 10m altitude bands and you quickly have tens or hundreds of times more capacity, and that's ignoring the effect of no longer being restricted to a road network which only uses a tiny fraction of available area in its single band.

      And experience shows that this is how it actually works. Aircraft crashing in mid-air during a flight is almost unheard of; even the most dangerous near misses usually involve planes only being with a few hundred metres of each other. Congestion and collisions happen almost exclusively in the places where aircraft are effectively restricted to roads - around airports and in corridors where they are assigned limited space. And that only happens because we currently restrict aircraft to hubs rather than being able to travel to or from wherever they like.

      There are plenty of real problems flying cars have, most of which come down to safety. Limited flying space causing congestion just as bad as on current roads is absolutely not one of them.

      1. annodomini2

        Re: And if you think about it for more than 10 minutes...

        Currently space is not an issue because there isn't many of them, get 2 million of them up there each needing to be at least a mile apart from each other and things change.

        Also Air traffic control is stressful with the current setup, imagine people having to organise that many flying vehicles. Yes I know they would intend to automate it, but that is not currently the case.

      2. Eddy Ito Silver badge

        Re: And if you think about it for more than 10 minutes...

        The extra dimension gets you very little since it increases the complexity of control by an order of magnitude. Consider if you're dividing the atmosphere into bands then you're creating corridors of limited space which is what you state is the cause of congestion and collision.

        Worse in many cities there are tall vertical structures that one would have to fly between further limiting space and reducing the 10 m bands to near copies of the existing streets. Complicating that further is the need to traverse between bands to get the the proper band. In a city the "flying cars" will be functionally flying over the roads unless the aim is to go a substantial distance or for intercity travel where you first rise to clear the entire city.

        You're also ignoring the fact that much of the congestion is caused by people going to and from the same hubs whether it's Times Square or Madison Square Garden or the East Village. The only place where the flying cars will have an advantage is when it can avoid geographical bottlenecks like the Brooklyn Bridge or Holland Tunnel.

        Lastly there's one problem that nobody seems to mention and that's noise. These flying cars will have to be far quieter than a helicopter or typical drone if they're ever going to be accepted in any great number. If it's a problem that's been solved it must be expensive to implement since it isn't often that a subsonic flying object sneaks up on anyone.

      3. Vic

        Re: And if you think about it for more than 10 minutes...

        No, it takes more energy to fly the same distance, all else being equal. If a ground car has to take a long, windy route and constantly gets stuck in traffic, while the flying one can do a direct route with no delays, it's no longer cut and dried.

        Any flying car that's actually usable in real cities will necessarily have to be some sort of STOVL aircraft. That takes *vastly* more power than a runway takeoff - which is why our old aircraft carriers were fitted with ski-jumps for the Harriers.

        You have to have a particularly contrived scenario to make STOVL flight more energy-efficient than surface transport.

        Flying gives you effectively unlimited extra space to use - just divide the atmosphere into 10m altitude bands and you quickly have tens or hundreds of times more capacity

        And you also have carnage. Minimum separation distances are 5 miles horizontally and 1000 feet vertically, although this can be reduced to 3 miles under certain conditions. And you need separation even if your aircraft are under automatic control - as most aircraft are these days - because you need manoeuvring room in the event of some sort of problem.

        Aircraft crashing in mid-air during a flight is almost unheard of; even the most dangerous near misses usually involve planes only being with a few hundred metres of each other

        That's true today - but wasn't so before aviation authorities got the idea of minumum separation properly established; you only have to go back to 1956 to see what happens when minima can be ignored; that one cost 28 lives, and led to sweeping (and necessary) changes in aviation procedures.

        There are plenty of real problems flying cars have, most of which come down to safety. Limited flying space causing congestion just as bad as on current roads is absolutely not one of them.

        Spend some time around light aircraft and you'll come to understand just how wrong is that assertion...

        Vic.

  5. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Found an example to scale from

    Here is a one man electric helicopter. That baseline has a pair of 4.74m diameter counter rotating rotors, 75kg of pilot, about 40kg of batteries and 10 minutes of endurance. If we glue four of these together, we have enough lift for a second (quadruple weight) battery to double the endurance and 65kg left over for a passenger. Our vehicle is 9.5m wide. A popular "standard" two lane main road width is 7.5m with 1.8m pavements, so this contraption requires both lanes and half the pavement on each side.

    Upgrading the batteries to something futuristic allows bigger passengers with shopping or more endurance. The rotor size can be reduced but you then need bigger motors, bigger batteries and a bunch of lawyers to deal with complaints from recently deaf neighbours. (The sonic boom from the rotors will also smash the counter rotating rotors.)

  6. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    Not the dumbest idea I've ever seen.

    So basically Transport aaS.

    It offers a personal transport bubble but without the personalization of your own vehicle with the rollout costs of a bus rather than a rail service and the ongoing payments of a travel pass.

    The future.

    More "choice." Less individuality.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Not the dumbest idea I've ever seen.

      But it would make it easier to spend more time in more widely located pubs... and a pub is arguably a better venue for expressing genuine individuality than the road.

      In any case, I do see a few beautiful vintage cars on the road, but they tend to be owned by enthusiasts. A silver Audi or black BMW would appear to be chosen for its anonymity, or else some game of keeping up with the Jones.

    2. Swarthy Silver badge

      Re: Not the dumbest idea I've ever seen.

      Alternatively, one could own the pod, and have the wheels/rotors/hyperloop aaS. This would blend the "no-one owns the transport" and the "my car is not just transport, but also storage" points of view. and it would also eliminate the "if all cars are automated, who's going to ensure that the shared cars aren't filty, stinky and tainted" argument.

  7. Haku

    concept . /'konsept/

    noun

    the art of writing bullshit and passing it off as a great idea

  8. imanidiot Silver badge

    Marketing bullshit

    Just a "me too" jump onto the bandwagon. This sort of system simply can't work because the physics make it pretty much impossible to do in a vehicle small enough, light enough and quiet enough to be of any practical use. Even when making assumptions about some super-duper future battery tech and materials.

    1. DropBear Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Marketing bullshit

      Exactly! ...now, where have I left that jetpack...?!?

  9. Simon Harris Silver badge

    Supermarionation

    Can they make the flying module look like Thunderbird 2 please.

  10. Yugguy

    Ital???

    The last time I heard the word ital in a car context it belonged to a tarted-up Morris Marina.

  11. short

    If transport is solved, who'd want to live in a megacity?

    Come to think of it, even if transport isn't solved, who'd want to? Is it the only way we can house the proles? Stack'em high and wait for the block wars?

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Boffin

      Transport isn't solved

      until you can get rid of a significant part of the time component as well.

      1. short

        Re: Transport isn't solved

        I'd sort of assumed a decent speed - say, 100mph straight-line. Nowhere near easyjet speeds, but with a 5 minute to strap-in, rather than 3 hours.

        That would be enough for me to want to / be able to live outside the megacity, if it wasn't a daily commute.

        How fast do we think these embiggened quadcopters can go? (and, come to think of it, how come they're so much more compelling than regular helicopters? If they are, why do helicopters still exist?)

  12. Chris G Silver badge

    7-10 years

    The video blarb mentioned ' in 7-10 years you could see this happening'

    Even IF the physical technology became useable this still wouldn't work, filling the airspace above cities with hundreds of flying twizzies would need an AI air control system that is certainly not going to be sussed by then.

    I strongly doubt that such a thing will be practicable for self driving cars in two dimensions this side of 2050 let alone a hybrid road/air transport system.

    Also have concerns about security for an AI controlled transport system, if someone could dream up an 'Italian Job' hack in the '60s, I dread to think what damage a successful exploit could do to a city wide system in the future and governments are better at breaking systems than securing them .

  13. Deltics
    Pint

    Drone coming down from the sky to pick up humans.... ?

    I can't help but wonder if who-ever came up with this idea has recently discovered the iconic Williams Defender ...

  14. Red Ted
    FAIL

    Brave New World

    I recall A. Huxley's Brave New World had personal helicopters, I wonder why I am suddenly reminded of this.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019