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For generations, flying cars have been a popular futuristic fantasy, shared by people all over the world. Unfortunately, this is an invention that has remained in the realm of science fiction, so we are still driving on the ground.
Now, after all this time, it seems like flying cars may actually become a reality.
A new air taxi startup called Alaka’i Technologies has released a prototype of a hydrogen powered flying car. The company unveiled the demo of the vehicle this May, at the offices of BMW Designworks in Los Angeles.
The flying car prototype is fully functional and able to hold up to five passengers.
A spokesperson for the company said that the prototype would be making its first flight “imminently.”
BMW Designworks will be somehow contributing to the design of the vehicle, but the extent of their involvement is unclear.
Alaka’i Technologies features an all-star team with engineers and executives from NASA, Raytheon, Airbus, Boeing, and the Department of Defense.
The Capabilities Of The Alaka’i Skai
The vehicle, called Skai, can fly for up to 4 hours and cover 400 miles on a single trip. Unlike the electric cars on the market like the Tesla, you can power up a Skai in just 10 minutes.
While Alaka’i is an air taxi company, that market is still not mature enough for them to enter into yet. Instead, Alaka’i will first use Skai for emergency services, search and rescue missions, and hauling cargo.
These industries will be easier for Alaka’i to enter because regulations and certifications are less stringent.
For rescue and transport industries, certification will take no longer than a few months. Meanwhile, certification to carry passengers for commercial purposes typically takes between 5 and 10 years.
This will allow them to start getting their product onto the market by next year.
Hydrogen: An Expensive Fuel Source
While this technology is promising, high production costs could hinder the development of hydrogen powered vehicles.
Hydrogen fuel cells are very efficient, but unfortunately, hydrogen is also extremely rare. Due to its rarity and the increasing demand for it, hydrogen can get incredibly expensive.
As expected, the Skai is no bargain. The company estimates that the vehicle will cost roughly $200,000. However, they have stated that the first few models that they release to the public will be significantly more expensive.
The Future of Skai
Despite this massive cost, Alaka’i has high hopes for its revolutionary flying vehicle. The company expects that it will have a production volume of roughly 10,000 vehicles each year. This is a staggering number for the industry, as no other company produces more than 700 aircraft annually.
The initial aircraft released by Alaka’i will require a pilot to manually operate the vehicle. However, the company plans on releasing a fully autonomous aircraft, once the market matures.
NASA veteran engineer Bruce Holmes, who serves on Alaka’i’s board of directors told Wired that, “Our goal was to keep it simple, and we focused on accommodating a certain mission profile that’s repeatable over an entire day.”
Previous Developments In The Industry
Believe it or not, this actually won’t be the first aircraft powered by a fuel cell. In 2008, Boeing modified a small plane to power its conventional propeller with a battery.
Boeing used a Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell, with a lithium-ion battery hybrid system to power the aircraft. However, this is obviously an entirely different type of vehicle. The Skai is more of an electric flying car, and less of an electric airplane.
The Russian manufacturer Tupolev built a prototype hydrogen powered version of the Tu 154 airliner, named the Tu 155, which made its first flight in 1989.
Liquid hydrogen has about four times the volume for the same amount of energy of kerosene based jet-fuel. However, hydrogen is about one-third of the weight of kerosene jet-fuel for the same amount of energy. This means that the hydrogen aircraft would require about one-third of the fuel weight to achieve the same performance.