Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk may think flying cars are a bad idea, but several companies are working to make them a reality as early as next year.
The vehicles these companies are working on aren't the same from flying cars from "Back to the Future." Rather, they are pursuing electric, vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft for shorter urban commutes.
Like the name suggests, these are vehicles that can take off without needing a runway.
Competition is mounting when it comes to the flying-car moonshot — here are 7 companies working on their own VTOL aircrafts:
1. German company eVolo made a big announcement on Wednesday when it said it will use its VTOL aircraft for a pilot taxi service in 2018.
Called the Volocopter 2X, the aircraft has 18 rotors and can fit two people.
The aircraft is powered by six batteries, allowing for just 17 minutes of flight. It can re-charge in 40 minutes using a fast charger.
2. Airbus is developing a single-person VTOL under its Silicon Valley arm A³ as part of its Project Vahana. The aircraft will be autonomous and can carry a single passenger or cargo.
A³ CEO Rodin Lyasoff said in a Medium post that it will fly a full-size prototype before the end of 2017. Zach Lovering, who oversees Project Vahana, told Business Insider that the group plans to have a production version ready by 2020.
The electric aircraft will have 8 rotors and will be able to achieve an altitude of about 1,000 feet. It will be fully self-piloted, though it will also come with autonomous tech like radar and lidar to detect obstacles.
You can read more about the project here.
Airbus is also designing a flying taxi system, named CityAirbus, that would have multiple propellers and resemble a small drone. Multiple people would be able to book a ride on the flying taxi system via an app.
Airbus wrote on its website that the CityAirbus taxi would first be operated by a pilot, but that a fully autonomous version would be released once regulations are in place. However, the flying taxi wouldn't land and pick you up from wherever. You would have to go to the "nearest helipad" for a lift after booking a seat.
3. Uber plans to partner with other companies to use VTOLs for city commutes. The company published a White Paper in October outlining how its plans to launch the project, dubbed Uber Elevate, by 2026.
Uber made a huge hire to advance its flying-car plans. The company hired Mark Moore, formerly an advanced aircraft engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center, for its Uber Elevate project, Bloomberg reported in February.
4. Chinese drone company EHang is working to get its giant, taxi drone in the air as soon as federal regulations will allow it. It can carry 220 pounds, cruise at 62 mph, and fly over 11,000 feet.
The EHang is another Uber-like system in that passengers would enter their desired location and the drone would then fly on its own.
A prototype of the EHang has been tested in China, but the company is still working to get approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to begin flying in the US.
5. Terrafugia is building a car that can take off, fly, and land autonomously — but you would still have to drive it manually.
The plug-in hybrid has a range of 500 miles, and it can take off vertically so you don't need to be on a runway for liftoff.
Passengers can simply enter their desired location and it will fly on its own. The company has said a production version will be ready by 2025.
Terrafugia already sells its Transition flying car, which needs a runway to take off but can drive on roads. You need a Sports Pilot License to operate the vehicle.
6. Google co-founder Larry Page is funding secretive startup Zee.Aero to build a VTOL aircraft.
A prototype of the aircraft, pictured above, was spotted in the wild in October.
Witnesses in Hollister, California reportedly saw the vertical take-off plane hover about 25 feet above the ground, land, and then hover again. There are few other details about the secretive project.
7. Slovakian firm AeroMobil is perhaps making the closest thing to a flying car. Its aircraft, like Terrafugia's Transition, needs a runway to take off but can drive on roads.
AeroMobil plans to start taking orders in 2017.