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Back to the Future

Back to the Future

By Nicole Ellan James

What’s that in the sky? Is it a bird? Is it a plain? Nope! It’s a car! The days of the hovercraft are upon us and technology has improved so much that automakers are trying to one-up each other with a concept design for a hover car.

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It all began in 2012 with the “People’s Car Project” in China, which called upon customers to contribute design ideas for Volkswagen’s model of the future. The project inspired people to submit 119,000 different, unique, and original ideas. Thus, we have the Volkswagen hover car as a product.  The hovercraft/car uses electromagnetic levitation to float along its own grid above the regular road network. The craft uses distance sensors keep from colliding with other vehicles on the road. This futuristic car is a disc-shaped pod that seats two people and is controlled by a joystick. Drivers can move the car both back-and-forth and side-to-side. As an added bonus, it can even spin on an axis. To top it off, the concept car produces zero emissions.

The latest resurgence of the hover car possibility came from Toyota during an interview at Bloombergs Next Big Thing Summit in San Francisco. Hiroyoshi Yoshiki, the managing officer with Toyotas technical administration group, said that the company had been studying a similar idea of flying cars at one of its “most advanced” research and development areas, but cautioned that the concept was not like actually flying around in three-dimensional space. Instead, he said, the plan is to get the car “a little bit away” from the road to reduce friction, similar to a hovercraft. Just imagine, speed bumps could no longer be an issue…

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Last month, Google announced a new version of its driverless car project that was markedly more evolved than the one it’s been developing and testing for the past few years. That includes a reference design that fits just two people, and doesn’t have a steering wheel.

Google’s project faces numerous challenges, including compliance with local and federal laws, as well as high costs of sensor technologies. Google and other companies working on similar projects need to convince the government that autonomous vehicles can safely work alongside normal cars. At the same time, the automatic driving mechanisms require a wide array of expensive sensors and complex software that can make sense of it all.

Friedman said the NHTSA viewed Google’s project as a “great taste of innovations to come,” but played up the significance of other car technologies that are likely to come to normal cars sooner. That could include new mandates that keep cars apart on freeways, as well as tools to keep cars from drifting out of their lane.

All in all, our hope for ‘Jetsons-like’ flying cars looks bleak at the moment, but it is slowly becoming a possibility.

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