A New Meaning to Off-Road: The Future of Air Transport?

Dassault Systèmes has long been involved in aiding the automotive industry’s push toward autonomous vehicles. Most recently, we covered Ford Motor CO.’s transition to Level 4 and Level 5 vehicles, completely removing any human intervention. With cities becoming overcrowded and traffic at a standstill, engineers are now in the process of taking cars off the road and into the sky. That’s right-the future of driverless flying cars might be just around the corner.

Reach for the Sky

Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) just announced another technological achievement for its city: the release of driverless flying cars. Through its collaboration with the Chinese company Ehang, Dubai has completed its first-round testing of the autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV), which has the ability to transport humans at the touch of a button. With its helicopter-like design, the Ehang 184 is equipped with a touchscreen in front of each seat that allows passengers to select various, predetermined points of interest. Once these preset routes are activated, the flying car will take off and automatically sail to its destination with the support of ground control.

Safety First

As we’ve already covered in previous blogs, safety on the ground is still a challenge for autonomous driving vehicles. Car innovator Elon Musk recently made opposing comments stating that “if somebody doesn’t maintain their flying car, it could drop a hubcap and guillotine you.” So how can we trust that driverless flying cars are trustworthy? There is a lot of controversy surrounding the risk that these flying vehicles pose, especially when it comes to malfunctions and weather-related issues. According to Mattar Al Tayer, the director general and chairman of the RTA, the Transport Authority has already “addressed the highest levels of security in the designing and manufacturing of the Ehang 184.” Therefore, when it comes to propeller failure, there are seven other propellers ready to take over and complete a smooth landing. “In case of any malfunctioning in one of these systems, the standby system would be capable of controlling and safely steering the AAV to the programmed landing point,” said Tayer. Despite all of its fitted safety precautions, weather still poses a threat. In fact, the Ehang 184 isn’t built to fly in thunderstorms and would have to sense the most miniscule of obstacles like flying debris. Moreover, the flying vehicle would have to make real-time measurements for air temperature change at different altitudes- something the AAV has already incorporated, but not yet fully tested.

Final Thoughts

The release of the AAV has been set for July 2017 in Dubai, officially dubbing it the smartest city in the world. The shift from autonomous driving vehicles to driverless flying cars is pivotal for the future of transportation and what it means for the passenger experience. As a matter of fact, this could be the solution to eliminating traffic and congestion in cities following Dubai.  But is calling this a “flying car” accurate?  The phrase conjures up images of a DeLorean from “Back to the Future”; transitioning from four-wheels on a road to flight at the push of a button…Dubai’s “flying cars” aren’t meant for roads.  Most importantly, these Autonomous Aerial Vehicles are best described as drones – piloted remotely – so no need to start thinking about a pilot’s license just yet. But the potential of consumer-accessible air transportation options is tantalizing, and mainstream adoption would turn a whole new page in urban design and human mobility.

Dassault Systèmes is not only proud to have a history in supporting the inception of autonomous vehicles, but also innovative air cargo transport. In fact, these flying vehicles may become a reality in North America sooner than we think. Through our collaboration with Joby Aviation, aerial innovation is coming to new heights with the game-changing S2, an electric 200 mph vertical takeoff and landing aircraft made for two passengers. In light of such advancement, we look forward to being a part of the future transformation in North America’s automotive and air sector through Dassault Systèmes Engineered to Fly industry solution experience.

Rebecca Shpektor

Rebecca is currently a senior at Boston University majoring in public relations and mass communications. She loves creative writing, binge watching episodes of Black Mirror while cuddling with her Pomsky puppy, and eating sushi in excessive amounts. One day, she hopes to explore every country.