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The Ride: Flying cars are closer to reality than you think

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Kitty Hawk is a flying car company backed by Google co-founder Larry Page. Its Flyer will be available to consumers by the end of 2017.
Kitty Hawk
Kitty Hawk is a flying car company backed by Google co-founder Larry Page. Its Flyer will be available to consumers by the end of 2017.

A flying Uber? Or a personal hovercraft? Big names are trying to make the long-awaited dream of flying cars a reality.

Imagine being able to get around traffic by flying above it. It's an idea that was first popularized by The Jetsons, but it's no longer restricted to sci-fi. Companies big and small are pouring billions of dollars into making flying cars a reality, according to a flurry of mainstream media reports this week.

A version of George Jetson’s aerocar really could be parked in your driveway by the end of this year. That's the goal of Kitty Hawk, a Silicon Valley startup backed by Google co-founder Larry Page. The New York Times reported Kitty Hawk's Flyer prototype is currently being tested in the skies north of San Francisco. Seating one in an open cockpit of a vehicle that looks like a cross between a pontoon boat and a drone, the Flyer uses battery-powered propellers to fly.

Not to be outdone, Google co-founder Sergey Brin is also working on a flying vehicle. According to several news outlets, the project involves a blimp that could be used to haul cargo.

Uber announced Tuesday that it is partnering with five different aerospace companies, including Bell Helicopters and Aurora Flight Sciences, to develop "on-demand urban mobility." The San Francisco-based ride-hailing pioneer is looking to develop a brand new type of aircraft that’s electric and takes off and lands vertically, like a helicopter. The idea is that this urban air mobility service will work like Uber with its cars, only the rides will be in cars that fly. Uber plans to demo an urban air mobility network in Dallas and also Dubai in 2020.

Last week, the University of Michigan's Sustainable Worldwide Transportation division released a study about Americans' attitudes toward flying cars. While the majority of survey respondents said they were "very concerned" about flying cars' safety, they are still interested in using them, especially if they're equipped with parachutes.

The biggest reason for the positive attitude is that they think flying cars will shorten travel times, but other perceived benefits include fewer crashes, better fuel economy and lower emissions. Most people would like flying cars to be powered with electricity rather than gas.

The survey found that more men are interested in flying cars than women. Younger people are also more interested than older people. About half of the survey's respondents said they would definitely be interested in learning how to fly a car if it required 20 hours of flight training, but most people were more interested in a taxi model. They'd rather hail a ride in a flying car, and prefer that the car fly itself than have a licensed pilot.

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