Buckle up! Autonomous flying cars may be taking off

Terrafugia developing a robot vehicle that will take off, fly and land on its own

The company that has been developing flying cars is taking the idea one step further.

Terrafugia Inc. is working on a robotic, autonomous flying car. Passengers would get in, crack open a book or chat with a friend, all while the vehicle takes off, flies and lands on its own.

"We want to make the flying car practical," said Carl Dietrich, co-founder, CEO and chief technology officer at Terrafugia. "We want something that is statistically safer than driving a car. We think that's possible. It needs to be faster than driving a car. It needs to be simpler to operate than a plane. It needs to be more convenient than driving a car today. It needs to be sustainable in the long run."

Dietrich made the comments last weekend at the MIT Tech Conference, which focused on disruptive technologies.

He explained that the model of the next-generation flying car is a four-seat, plug-in hybrid that doesn't require the operator to be a full-fledged pilot.

"It will even plan the route for you," Dietrich said. "There's still an operator deciding if it's safe to take off. Is it safe to land here? But it doesn't take a lot of training to make these decisions. Is it safe is an easy decision to make... This is starting now and its very, very exciting."

Terrafugia is a Woburn, Mass.-based aerospace company founded by pilots and engineers from MIT. Terrafugia has two prototypes but no flying cars in production.

The company's flyable car is designed with foldable wings and falls into the light sport aircraft category. It's expected to take off and land at small, local airports and to drive on virtually any road.

The Transition, the company's first driveable plane, completed its first flight in March 2012 at Plattsburgh International Airport in upstate New York.

The plane is still in the testing phase. A spokeswoman said Tuesday that the company is probably two years away from production.

Dietrich did not reveal pricing for an autonomous flying car, but said costs are coming down from initial expectations.

"We're trying to bring the cost down to the area of a luxury vehicle," he said during his presentation. "It's not going to be a $10,000 vehicle but it will be in the reach of a much broader segment of the population."

Terrafugia may be trying to develop an autonomous drivable plane, but others are working on autonomous vehicles.

Google has been working on a robotic, self-driving car for several years.

Google, which recently acquired artificial intelligence company, DeepMind Technologies, first announced in the fall of 2010 that its engineers were working on a driverless vehicle that could be widely sold. Since then, Google has logged thousands of miles on the road, approached Detroit auto makers about a partnership and worked with Nevada's Department of Motor Vehicles to come up with a set of rules of the road for autonomous vehicles.

This article, Buckle up! Autonomous flying cars may be taking off , was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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