Now this is more like it.
There's no doubt that the 21st century has brought many instances of radical technological change. But doesn't it seem like the coolest retro-future ideas from those 1950s science expos never materialized? Where are the jet packs, the lunar shuttles, the flying cars?
Well, we may have the flying cars covered - and relatively soon, too. This week, the MIT-affiliated private company Terrafugia released new designs for its TF-X flying autonomous vehicle.
Like the company's original flying car model, the Transition, the TF-X is a bonafide, Jetsons-style auto-airplane hybrid, designed to be FAA-approved in the air and street legal on the roads. (In fact, the Transition has already been successfully flight-tested.)
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The TF-X takes things to another level, however, by adding vertical take-off and landing capabilities, plus a fully autonomous piloting system. The idea is to jump into the TF-X, state your designated landing zone, and then let the vehicle itself handle the rest, on the roads and in the air.
The TF-X flies by way of twin electric-powered motors built into the vehicle's fold-out wings. The 300-hp engines power two tilting rotors that shift from vertical to horizontal to accommodate take off, cruising and landing. Cruising speed is around 200 mph, with a 500-mph flight range.
The rotors and wings fold into the body of the vehicle when driving on roads. The TF-X can seat four people and is designed to fit into a standard single-car garage space. For take off and landing, the vehicle requires a level clearing 10 feet diameter.
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On the system software end, Terrafugia plans to integrate a fully autonomous flight system able to avoid other air traffic, adjust for weather conditions and handle emergency situations.
A backup full-vehicle parachute system will engage if things really go sideways. Users will also be able to fly the TF-X manually, though the plan is to have a comprehensive auto-pilot system that users can learn in a matter of hours.
As of now, it's all in the early stages of design. Terrafugia plans on 8-12 years of further development, as there are many, many hurdles still to jump - both technological and legislative. But projections are more or less in line with what experts expect for autonomous vehicle development in general. Here's a digital visualization of the TF-X in action: