You start the car, pull out of the parking lot and hit the road. So far — a routine trip. Now, select flight mode. A pair of wings comes out of the sides of your vehicle and you take off for your destination.
Like the cars in Ridley Scott’s masterpiece “Blade Runner” flying over a dystopian Los Angeles of 2019, the prototype of the vehicle being developed by Silicon Valley-based New Future Transportation (NFT) is theoretically set to sail the skies of the Bay Area in October next year.
“Our mission is not transportation, but better quality of life,” said NFT chairman Guy Kaplinsky, an Israeli who, with his wife Maki Kaplinsky, designed the car.
The two entrepreneurs live near Palo Alto, about 50 miles from San Francisco, because “houses are more beautiful and cheaper” than in the metropolis, they said. However, for people who need to get to work near the Golden Gate Bridge, it takes as much as two and a half hours by car, because of traffic congestion.
According to a study by inrix.com, people in the San Francisco area spent on average 79 peak hours stuck in traffic in 2017, ranking the city the third out of 297 cities in the US and fifth out of 1,360 urban centers around the world in driving time spent in congestion.
Kaplinsky said their competitively priced flying vehicle will allow users to save time and money.
The flying car prototype will be a zero-emission multimodal vehicle — that can both drive and fly — the size of a sport utility vehicle (SUV), with two or four seats. It will take off and land vertically, and its wings will retractable, not fixed, the two entrepreneurs explained.
“We made our design flexible” by creating a sort of hybrid system, CEO Maki Kaplinsky said.
The base of the vehicle is electric, with a built-in extended range generator. Maki Kaplinsky said that with this combination the vehicle’s target flying range of 300 miles (480 kilometers) and driving range of 100 miles (160 kilometers) will be “feasible and economical.”
The aim is to use just batteries in the future, the entrepreneurs explained, without a generator. However, they said, batteries allowing for such ranges are yet to be developed and it is difficult to predict when this breakthrough will take place.
The vehicle will be able to be either piloted or fly autonomously, said Maki Kaplinsky, adding that US regulations allow flight at a height of 300 to 5,000 feet, even if in practice it is able to fly above and below this range.
User-friendliness is the main feature of NFT’s projected flying car, which makes it stand out among other kinds of flying vehicles, the husband and wife said.
Maki Kaplinsky underlined that while drones and other electric aircraft require specific spots for parking and charging, NFT’s flying car can be parked in a garage or in the street. More importantly, she added, the vehicle’s “drive and fly” ability will allow users to reach their final destination using just one vehicle.
Asked about technical issues that may arise with flying cars in an urban environment, the two entrepreneurs said that of course “people don’t like having cars flying above their heads,” but that the vehicles would be taking off from designated areas near shopping centers or highways. The two entrepreneurs believe that at low altitudes, the vehicles could fly over roads, open water or green areas so as to avoid the problem, while for higher altitudes there will be no issue because flying cars would be “just like today’s aircraft flying above us,” Maki Kaplinsky said.
In terms of air traffic control management, Guy Kaplinsky said that each country has different regulations, and that in the US the Federal Aviation Administration would be the monitoring authority regulating traffic. With the introduction of flying cars, he said, the vehicles would be given a specific space slot according to their route.
“Our mission and advantage is door-to-door [commuting],” said Maki Kaplinsky, adding that their car won’t be “a toy for rich guys” and will be “accessible for regular people,” with a target price of $50,000.
NFT is aiming for the mass markets according to Guy Kaplinsky. “I’m giving you a flying car that will allow you to reach your destination… and that does not cost $2 million,” he said. We “want to be the bridge between automotive and aerospace technology.”
Maki Kaplinsky said that they began thinking of the project about three years ago and when in July 2017 they sold their previous company — US-based IoT software startup IQP Corp. — to General Electric, they decided to fully embrace this challenge. At the beginning this year they opened an office in California and hired 15 — to become soon 35 — engineers in Israel.
The first step in their vision will be to start flying cargo, and only then people, said Maki Kaplinsky.
The company aims to launch the drive-and-fly cargo vehicle by the end of 2022 and a flying car for human transportation by 2025.
The manufacturing of parts, such as motors and windows, will be carried out by partners, “most probably automotive Tier 1” companies, Maki Kaplinsky said.
She added that in January 2019 the company will open an Israeli assembly line so as to produce full-size demonstrators to be tested not only in the US, but also in Israel.
“We are investing $2 million by ourselves at this stage (seed founding), but we are contacting VCs in the Silicon Valley and Japan, aimed at rising $15 million for the A series,” Maki Kaplinsky said.