While regulatory bodies sort out the rules for self-driving vehicles and drones, technology isn’t waiting. In fact, the latest autonomous vehicle design goes beyond roads and into the air. A Massachusetts company just unveiled designs for a flying autonomous vehicle, called the TF-X. The team behind the self-driving plane is Terrafugia, a company run by MIT-trained aerospace engineers. Their previous version of a flying car has already been successfully flight tested.
Now, designs for the TF-X describe a fully autonomous vehicle that will fly through the air and drive on roads and highways. The four-seat hybrid would have quiet electric-powered motors built into its wings, which fold up for driving on roads. Motors would work with 300-hp engines, a distributed electric system, and a ducted fan to would provide thrust and enable the vehicle to fly for about 500 miles before users recharge the batteries at a vehicle charging station. (Who knows—maybe vehicle charging would also be automated.) Eventually, the company plans to integrate a fully autonomous pilot system that can avoid other air traffic, adjust for weather conditions, and handle emergency situations.
For now, though, the self-driving flying car is in the early stages of design, with Terrafugia planning to spend another decade on further development. Although there will be many technological challenges, the biggest delay could come from seeking approval from the NHTSA and the FAA.