Fly me to the sky

Flying cars were all the rage at the 2018 Geneva International Motor Show

New technology is revolutionizing the way we will consider transport in the near future. Flying cars are one of the options on the cards and a number of IEC Standards can help the various industries involved.

The PAL-V Liberty flying car uses its rotors as a parachute if the dual engine fails (Photo: PAL-V)

Congestion is the bugbear of every car driver, especially in big cities. Commuting to and from work often involves snail’s-pace progress through traffic jams, bumper to bumper with other cars. New technology is helping to transform the way we will use transport in the not so distant future. Various companies are hedging their bets on different scenarios.

For some, we will continue to own cars but these will gradually become more autonomous, taking over from us when we need them to, using artificial intelligence to guess our moods and, a bit like friendly robots, getting to know our preferences to enable them to adapt to our requirements. For others, we will cease to own cars, especially in big cities where parking space is at a premium, and instead, fleets of autonomous vehicles will be either rented or booked in the same way as a taxi. For yet a third group of visionaries, the future of transport will involve some form of flying. How better to avoid congestion than to be able to drive for part of the journey but then take off when necessary?

While huge legislation, insurance and safety certification issues must still be addressed, a number of companies have moved forward with the technology enabling car and aircraft to merge. Some of these developments were on show at the 2018 Geneva International Motor Show (GIMS).

Pie in the sky?

Pop Up is a project which was initially launched last year (see e-tech article Brave new car world issue 3, 2017) and results from the work of three different companies – a German automotive giant, an Italian design and engineering outfit and a major European aircraft manufacturer.

While the project remains conceptual, the technology behind it has greatly moved on from where it was a year ago. The aerodynamic design of the air module and the rotor ducts has been refined so as to improve performance and reduce fuel consumption in cruise mode. A functional locking and latching system has been designed to couple the ground capsule with the air module. “This is very complex because air and ground vehicles respond to completely different operating and safety dynamics,” explains one of the engineers involved in the project.

A lot of work has gone into making the device lighter, using a feather weight mesh material. Engineers at GIMS were also demonstrating a clever human machine interface inside the capsule, based on facial recognition and eye-tracking. “This is the second chapter in the story. We have worked with a third party to develop a personal assistant you will interact with in the capsule, using your eyesight to choose various travel and entertainment options,” explains Emanuele Rivella, a systems engineer at the Italian outfit. According to Rivella, the ground capsule will operate like most other autonomous vehicles, using sensors, cameras, radar and LIDAR (light detecting and ranging) technology. It will also be fully electric. Data protection issues are also being looked into. “We are researching quantum technology and its cryptography potential,” Rivella adds. He agrees that International Standards, such as the ones prepared by the IEC, should help move the project forward.

A number of IEC technical committees (TCs) and their subcommittees (SCs) prepare International Standards for the components found in these technologies. Among the most relevant, IEC TC 47: Semiconductors, issues IEC 62969 which deals with the general requirements of power interfaces for automotive vehicle sensors. IEC TC 100: Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, publishes Standards that relate to digital cameras.

ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee (JTC) 1: Information technology, includes several subcommittees which deal with the various technologies involved. ISO/IEC JTC1/SC 37 works on biometrics and publishes the ISO/IEC 19794 series on biometric interchange formats, for instance.

ISO/IEC JTC1/SC 38 deals with cloud computing, while ISO/IEC JTC1/SC 27 is looking at the thorny issues of data protection and cyber security. ISO/IEC JTC1/SC 42, which was set up in 2017, is dedicated to artificial intelligence. IEC TC 69: Electric road vehicles and industrial trucks, issues Standards pertaining to the power charging of EVs.

The flying Dutchman

A Dutch company was showing PAL-V Liberty at the Geneva show, claiming it is the first production model of a flying car. “We spent ten years developing the technology before getting to this stage,” says Carlo Maasbommel, the company’s vice-president of international business research and development. One of the main technical hurdles was creating a car that is light enough to fly, yet robust enough for the road. “Around 45 engineers have been working on the project. Half of them come from the automotive sector and the other half from the aeronautical industry,” he adds.

The dual engine propulsion drive train is based on two fully-certified aeroplane engines, produced by one of the leading manufacturers of aviation engines. According to Maasbommel, even if both engines fail, the device can still land using the rotors like a parachute. Unlike the Pop Up concept, the flying car is neither autonomous nor electric. It has a driver and a passenger seat. “Initially we are targeting it at government services such as police or fire-fighters. We already have sixty orders on our books,” he says. The PAL-V Liberty is expected to go into service in 2019, once all the various certifications have been obtained. According to Maasbommel, the device has been designed to meet the legislation requirements of most countries.

The IEC comprises several TCs that are relevant to the aviation industry. One of them is IEC TC 107 which develops process management Standards on systems and equipment used in the field of avionics. These include the electronics used in commercial, civil and military aerospace applications. IEC TC 97: Electrical installations for lighting and beaconing of aerodromes, prepares International Standards for power distribution systems adapted to the operational and safety needs of aeronautical ground lighting (AGL).

IEC TC 21: Secondary cells and batteries, includes maintenance team (MT) 60952, which deals with the maintenance of the IEC 60952 series of Standards on aircraft batteries. IEC TC 29: Electroacoustics, publishes Standards that measure noise levels. One of these is IEC 61265, Instruments for measurement of aircraft noise, which specifies requirements for devices used to measure sound for the purpose of aeroplane noise certification.

Autonomous drones

An entirely different approach is for autonomous drones to become flying taxis, a project which has already been tested, notably in Dubai. A trial flight already took place last year, using technology developed by a Chinese company.

All three projects are based on very different strategies and assumptions. While many issues still have to be resolved, they clearly demonstrate that flying to escape congestion is no longer merely the wishful thinking of commuters stuck in traffic.