The Disrupters: mobility solutions that could be more than pie-in-the-sky

One of the most intriguing disruptive transportation technologies, thus far only existing in the world of science fiction, is the flying car.

Whilethis technology is being touted by many professional dreamers as the multi-dimensional conveyance of the future, that future has been a long time in coming despite writers and filmmakers busily conceiving air/land hybrid vehicles for decades.

Well, the future might just be in front of us, if the plans of a bold and clever firm in Slovakia are realised. AeroMobil is a company that has been refining its latest prototype, the AeroMobil 3.0, since 2014. With some luck the firm will soon shift to the final phases of the craft’s development cycle.

Later this year, according to the company’s chief communication officer Stefan Vadocz: “We will prepare several verification prototypes to test and finalise the configuration and package. Then we’ll move to pre-production prototype, which will be used mainly to set up manufacturing processes.”

This sequence will happen quickly, if all goes well. “According to our plan, the new verification prototypes will be ready this year,” said Vadocz. “They will be not revealed to public, as their primary purpose will be to verify the particular characteristics of the future vehicle.”

Once these are locked in, AeroMobil will be off to the races. Its timetable anticipates that a commercial model is to become available for purchase in 2017.

If the company can get that vehicle out the door quickly enough, it will have the great distinction of being the maker of the first flying car on the market. However, it’ll have to step lively; other determined firms are also trying to get their products onto the roads and into the skies. Elsewhere in Europe, Holland’s PAL-V (an acronym for Personal Air and Land Vehicle) has a working model, the PAL-V 1. A commercial version was originally planned to hit the market in 2014 but the company later announced it was seeking financing to craft such a version in time for deliveries this or next year.  

Across the Atlantic, not far from Boston, is another flying car specialist, Terrafugia. These Americans are developing not one but two models, the Transition and the TF-X. The former will be a relatively basic model, while the latter will incorporate several features of autonomous flying and driving, plus feature a longer range. As with its peers, Terrafugia is in the prototype stage with Transition, while TF-X’s production is anticipated to begin eight to 12 years from now.

Being the initial mover would certainly give AeroMobil a competitive advantage but Vadocz said that isn’t necessarily the priority for his firm. “We do not need to be the first flying car on the market; we want to be successful in the long term,” he emphasised. “For this, we must have a quality, fully functional, and safe product.”

Still, he and his colleagues still very much want to stick to their plan. “[This] does not mean that we are not time aware; we are very committed to 2017,” for a commercial launch, Vadocz said.

But up-shifting from one prototype phase to another, then finally to a commercial product, is not a cheap endeavour. Automobile development and manufacturing are expensive processes, particularly if said automobile is dual-mode. AeroMobil raised €8.5M (£6.7M) in funding last year and is seeking more.

As Vadocz explained: “Series A funding was open in 2015… AeroMobil accepted funding from the European venture capital company LRJ Capital, which invests mainly in technology businesses in Central Europe, Israel, Germany and the US. In addition to that, AeroMobil received a three-year R&D grant from the government of Slovakia for a significant amount.” He did not specify either sum.

“Series B funding in planned in late 2016,” Vadocz continued, adding that the details of this round will be “disclosed to interested parties,” in the near future.

The participation of the Slovak government is significant – it constitutes tacit approval from the authorities not only for AeroMobil’s product but for flying cars in general. And since Slovakia is a member of the European Union, we can assume that this official, de facto acceptance of the technology will help pave the way for broader approval throughout the economic bloc.

AeroMobil is busy working the regulatory end with the relevant authorities. According to Vadocz: “We are in [discussions] with the Joint Research Centre of the European Union and several other research bodies about the new regulations. There are several studies in progress already analysing the use and impact of personal aerial vehicles.”

While those regulatory and research efforts (hopefully) progress, AeroMobil is busy bulking up for the push towards commercial production. Its team now numbers 30 strong, with a recent beefing up of its technical department. Additionally, said Vadocz, in the very near future will decamp “to a new premises which will feature an R&D centre, an engineering workshop and a manufacturing facility.”

Which, if all goes well, is where the first consumer version of AeroMobil’s flying car will be born.  

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *