Feeds

NASA comp fails to produce flying cars

Where the hell is my flying car?

Boost IT visibility and business value

Analysis A NASA-sponsored competition designed to encourage the development of personal aircraft was won on Saturday by a modified Slovenian aircraft piloted by an Australian.

The winning Pipistrel Virus. Nice, but no flying car.

The inaugural Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) challenge event was held at the Charles Schultz Sonoma County airport in California last week. PAVs aren't proper science-fiction flying cars - at least, not yet. They aren't supposed to be able to lift off vertically or hover. Rather, the idea is to produce a relatively normal-looking light aeroplane which is very quiet, fuel-efficient, and can operate from a very short runway. This could, perhaps, be achieved for a price that ordinary-ish people could afford.

That set of capabilities would reduce several of the problems which have historically meant that we don't all own our own planes and use them for routine journeys. There might be a runway in every neighbourhood; they'd be normal road features, like roundabouts or lay-bys. PAVs being so quiet and only needing such short runways, nobody would mind this.

You could park your PAV in your garage or outside your house with the wings folded. In the morning, you'd jump into the PAV, taxi it round the corner to the nearest runway - and up, up and away. No gridlock or motorways for you. You'd set down close to your destination. Shopping malls, big corporate campuses, inner-city car/PAVparks and such would have their own runways. You'd park and do your thing.

All this is to ignore a remaining huge snag. Flying a light aircraft requires more training and skill than driving a car, even in ideal weather in uncrowded skies. A basic pilot's licence requires dozens of hours of instruction and allows one to fly only in benign weather and airspace which is mostly empty. A full instrument rating, enabling a pilot to operate in low visibility and congested skies, is a much bigger deal - but without this, most people would hardly ever be able to use their PAVs.

PAV advocates' proposed solution to this is a much more advanced autopilot and instrumentation fit. This would mean that a pilot in cloud or fog never had to learn how to fly his aircraft manually without visual cues, watching a selection of counterintuitive dials while being directed through traffic by a human ground controller over a voice channel. Rather, he or she would use "synthetic vision", a screen showing the terrain below, other aircraft in the sky, and probably a virtual "pipe" or "tunnel" in the sky, down which the air-traffic computers had routed the plane. In normal circumstances the PAV would fly itself down this pipe automatically, perhaps even landing itself autonomously at the destination strip.

Autopilot and glass-cockpit gear like this does exist, but it isn't small or cheap, and the automated air-traffic infrastructure which would let hundreds of thousands of PAVs fly about simultaneously above a large conurbation - bad weather or good, never mind - isn't even close to existing. It could be built, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will be. It's also more than possible that if it was built, PAVers of the future might often find themselves circling interminably in airborne traffic jams just as if they were sitting on the freeway: though the use of three dimensions and many runways rather than few could mitigate the airborne gridlock.

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Pay to play: The hidden cost of software defined everything
Enter credit card details if you want that system you bought to actually be useful
HP busts out new ProLiant Gen9 servers
Think those are cool? Wait till you get a load of our racks
Shoot-em-up: Sony Online Entertainment hit by 'large scale DDoS attack'
Games disrupted as firm struggles to control network
Community chest: Storage firms need to pay open-source debts
Samba implementation? Time to get some devs on the job
Silicon Valley jolted by magnitude 6.1 quake – its biggest in 25 years
Did the earth move for you at VMworld – oh, OK. It just did. A lot
Gamma's not a goner! UK ISP sorts out major outage
Says BT is the root of the problem
prev story

Whitepapers

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup
Learn why inSync received the highest overall rating from Druva and is the top choice for the mobile workforce.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.