Flying cars? Advanced fuel-cell vehicles could someday let commuters beat traffic in the sky

Traffic has become really bad in Southern California, and there's almost no way around it. But how would you like to soar over that traffic in a flying car? There may be one on the way.

"Well, we call it a 'vehicle.' And it does fly. But it's really a customer comfort mobility solution," said Steve Hanvey, CEO of Alakai Technologies, after unveiling the vehicle named Skai.

However they officially describe it, it sure sounds like a flying car. And it's now out in the open, after its debut at BMW Designworks in Newbury Park, where the Skai was co-designed. It's about the size of a minivan and somewhat resembles a large drone. Electric motors turn six overhead rotors, and the electricity comes from a hydrogen fuel cell. No emissions, there's no airstrip needed for takeoffs or landings, and the vehicle will be simple to operate, say the engineers who developed it.

"Well, think about your cars today. What do they do? They warn you if you start drifting out of your lane. It's technology starting to help take care of us. Really, the pilot on this is a co-pilot to the system," said Hanvey.

Things like this have been promised for decades, so why is it feasible now?

"This is the first time I think where technology and consumer demand is coming together to a point where something like this is going to become a reality," said Benji Miller, a writer for Transport Up after the Skai was unveiled for the first time.

Some people may be thrilled at the idea of soaring over traffic, but some still have a fear of flying. Well, the Skai has redundancy in its six motors (commercial aircraft typically have a maximum of four engines). The Skai also has a built-in parachute.

"The parachute's our point of last resort. If you lost one of the motors, or rotors, you can fly with two of them missing," noted Hanvey.

Okay, so when can we fly in one of these, and how much will it cost?

"Our long-term goal with mass production is sort of the cost of the luxury car. We believe that we will be certified by the end of 2020," said Hanvey, referring to certification from the Federal Aviation Administration.

So that's less than two years away. But add a few more years for production versions to come out, so still a long way off. But, that's closer than these kinds of vehicles have ever been.
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