Entrepreneurs see future in flying cars

Have you ever dreamed of soaring above traffic congestion in a flying car? Inventors might make that dream a reality — and sooner than you think.

Nearly a dozen companies around the globe want to develop the first mass-produced aircraft that will enable commuters to glide above crowded roadways. Some are recognizably cars with wings. Others look straight out of science fiction.

Many startups, including U.S.-based Joby Aviation, China’s Ehang and Slovakia’s AeroMobil, are hard at work perfecting designs. Aerospace giants Airbus and Silicon Valley’s Google also are in the game.

Many obstacles remain, including convincing regulators that the aircraft are safe, figuring out how to handle thousands of new low-flying aircraft over cities without collisions and developing batteries that will keep them aloft long enough to be useful.

But entrepreneurs are optimistic. “Air taxis” and personally owned small aircraft could transport people from the fringes of metropolitan areas to city centers as urban areas grow more congested.

U.S.-based ride-hailing service Uber doesn’t have any plans to develop a flying car itself, but is advising several companies that have aircraft in the works.

“The role we want to play is as a catalyst for the entire industry,” said Nikhil Goel, an Uber project manager for advanced programs.

Some of the aircraft are drones that passengers will be able to program for flight using a smartphone. Others will be operated from the ground or a command center, and some are designed for human pilots.

Several recent developments could make these aircraft possible. Advances in computing power mean the rotors on multicopter drones can be adjusted many times per second, making the aircraft easy to control. Drones also have benefited from advances in battery and electric motor technology.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that it is taking a flexible, risk-based approach to flying cars. Meanwhile, the space agency NASA is developing new models of battery-powered planes and an air traffic control system that could be useful for flying cars.

ShareAmerica writer Michael Buchanan contributed to this report.