However Nieuwenhuizen cautions that futuristic visions are not enough to get flying cars off the drawing board. “It’s not just the vehicle, it’s the complete system that has to be set up for something like this to be useful. Acceptance is a big part of it, and that’s where a lot of work still needs to be done in terms of what will actually happen when something like this becomes available. Would people want such a flying vehicle above their homes all the time?”
Mario Gerla likes the idea but warns the concept has significant hurdles to overcome. "We always think how nice it would be if we're stuck in a traffic jam, to all of a sudden, just take off from the road pavement and go where you want," he says. "I can understand the idea of flying from airport to airport, folding the wings and becoming a car. In the air, you're just one more plane. But if you take off from your parking lot and fly a few blocks away, it is more like a helicopter. It becomes much more flexible, and interesting, but maybe dangerous."
Terrafugia originally hoped to be shipping its less radical Transition in 2009, but now says the first customers will take delivery sometime in 2015 or 2016. As for the TF-X, Dietrich acknowledges the concept is a long way from becoming airborne, but he says discussing the idea early is a way to shorten the time it will take to make it a reality, which he currently estimates as between eight and 12 years.
“We’re a small company," he says. "We do have expertise in developing flying/driving vehicles now, but we haven’t developed an electric powered aircraft before. That’s a reason to take the concept public – to find potential development partners.”
Reservations are being taken for the TF-X, although its price tag has not yet been revealed. It's a fair bet that it'll cost more than the quoted $279,000 that the Transition will set customers back by.
But even those of us unlikely to be able to afford the first personal flying cars when they become available will benefit thanks to our early-adopting neighbours, says Gerla, who as a result may be able to get home from his office at UCLA more quickly.
“If you could levitate just some of these cars, fly them through the air and deposit them somewhere else, you could remove some of the major road congestion,” he says. “Just removing 10% or 15% of the cars would help it all flow again.”