Deloitte examines the flying cars looming over the horizon

10 May 2019 Consultancy.asia

Professional services firm Deloitte takes a look at the development of the 'third dimension' of urban mobility.

While Singapore recently retained its second-placed global rank in the nation’s preparedness for autonomous vehicles, with their advent set to completely revolutionise almost every facet of our daily lives, there’s another, even more one-time fanciful future of mobility now looming on the horizon – or, perhaps, over the horizon: flying cars. Once purely the realm of science fiction, when engineers now talk about electric flying cars, they’re being entirely straight-faced.

Asian cities are projected to generate half of the globe’s economic activity in a little over fifteen years from now. But with many of those cities suffering under the weight of their notorious traffic congestion – to the point where Indonesia will now spend $30-plus billion relocating its capital city from Jakarta (with the country’s planning minister citing $6.8 billion in losses per year due to traffic) the arrival of airborne passenger vehicles may be the only way to realise the region’s economic potential.

In a recent series from Deloitte Insights, the global professional services giant took a look at the development of the flying cars – or eVTOLs (electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft) to those in the business, and the technological barriers standing between now and their commercial reality, which, says the firm, will help to create a faster, cheaper, cleaner, safer, and more integrated transportation system.Considerations for commercial passenger drone developmentOf course, there are numerous other complications as to eVTOLs taking off before one even arrives at the technology dimension, such as the regulatory environment, support infrastructure, air traffic management systems, public safety measures and even the psychological element of taking a pilotless flight, but Deloitte notes that while these challenges may seem daunting they are certainly not insurmountable – with the aerospace and related industries having navigated similarly complex challenges before.

Technological capabilities, however, are a different sort of matter, and Deloitte concedes that the widespread use of passenger drones and flying cars is likely decades away. Still; “major aircraft manufacturers, network operators, investors, and both technology veterans and startups are taking the prospect of urban air transit seriously,” with hundreds of millions of dollars already committed toward research & development and the technology swiftly progressing.

“Hundreds of companies are working on concept vehicles, most of which take off vertically and can fly on wings using hybrid or all-electric propulsion,” the firm states. “Getting airborne is only the first step, though: For these aircraft to become a safe, affordable, and an efficient mode of transportation for the masses, they would need to incorporate technology that makes it possible to carry multiple passengers and higher cargo payloads meaningful distances in a single charge at speeds that significantly reduce current travel time.”Technological challenges for flying carsAccording to Deloitte’s analysis, which included interviews with subject matter experts and senior executives at leading aerospace and automotive companies as well as start-ups that are involved in the development of passenger drones and flying cars, there remain a number of complex technological challengers to overcome – centred around propulsion, collision avoidance and detection, and seamless communications.

Of these persisting challenges, Deloitte identifies five that will be key; efficient energy management, with electric battery power and life constraining design, and charge speeds insufficient for commercial operations; appropriately robust situational awareness systems, which will require advanced capabilities in AI and other sensory technologies; advanced detection and collision avoidance systems to accurately identify and measure objects over longer distances; robust communication and air traffic management systems; and noise control acoustics – with helicopter-style earmuffs for commuters a possible put-off

“If eVTOL aircraft are to become a reality over the next decade, companies will need to make significant progress to develop the required technologies and earn the confidence of skeptical consumers,” the report concludes, adding; “A decade ago, driverless cars seemed a little more than a futurist’s vision. Today, nearly every automaker and many major technology companies are investing billions in their development, with many predicting their widespread availability near the turn of the decade.”