The Japanese auto giant is dreaming big

Flying cars may still be a long way away from becoming reality, but a lot of start up firms are already dreaming big, and apparently, even automotive giants like Toyota are already looking at the possibility of one day seeing a flying car hit the skies. The Japanese automaker is nowhere near any kind of breakthrough, although it has filed patents for a transforming flying car that has now been published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Toyota’s patent isn’t exactly for an actual aerocar, but is instead for what it calls a “shape morphing fuselage” for an aerocar. It’s a little tricky to imagine, but the basic gist of the fuselage is that it conceals the wings of the car and when a driver wants to transition from driving the car to flying it, movable panels would bend out of the way and would open up to reveal the wings. That’s just one method that Toyota’s patent is proposing. Other proposals involve the wings expanding out or having flexible sections on the rear end of the aerocar that can contract and allow for the wings to open up from inside the so-called shape morphing fuselage. In all proposals, the wings unfurl similar to how a bird does it when it starts to fly.

Obviously, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to get this proposal off the ground, both literally and figuratively. If anything, Toyota seems to be one of the most well-equipped companies to take on this enormous challenge. But seeing as it’s a giant automaker, it’s unlikely that the Japanese automaker will have something on the table in the form of a working prototype anytime soon. It may even be more feasible for startups like Aeromobil or Larry Page’s Zee.Aero to get something done since that’s the only thing they’re focusing on whereas a major auto company like Toyota has to concern itself with its bread-and-butter business: cars.

Whatever happens it’s exciting to see companies like Toyota take this step. At the very least, the Japanese automaker is living up to its “Let’s go places” slogan.

Continue after the jump to read the full story.

Why it matters

There are a couple of ways to look at this. The first point of view is to tackle this as an optimist. I like the fact that Toyota is looking into developing technology that could be used for a flying car. It just goes to show that this dream isn’t limited to just the ambitious start ups. The mere expression of interest from Toyota is reassuring, even though there’s no short-term objective attached to it, or at least none that we know of.

On the flip side, it’s hard to fully jump on board the reality of flying cars. It’s not because it’ll never be possible; it’s because there are so many considerations to take before flying cars become feasible. For one, even if the technology is somehow developed, creating a set of rules or legislation to govern the use of flying cars is something that needs to be discussed by different countries. That in itself is a huge issue that needs to be addressed.

Then there’s the issue of infrastructure, which includes takeoff and landing strips, as well as air traffic control, among other things. A system of flying cars would only succeed if there’s an infrastructure in place to accommodate them. Anything other than that would make it very difficult to justify the prevalent use of flying cars.

How about safety and the overall question of practicality. The thought of a flying car sounds great on paper, but creating a flying car and creating a safe flying car are two different things. It’s not like a company can follow the same blueprint as an aircraft because those are designed to be intrinsically light whereas cars are required to follow strict crash-safety standards. Marrying the two poses as a big challenge for everyone, even for big companies like Toyota.

Finally, there’s the issue of cost, and it’s a big one. Remember Terrafugia, the flying car startup that managed to convince the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in 2012 to create a new classification to accommodate these types of vehicles? Well, it’s also the same company that said that its flying car, if it does hit production, would cost at least $300,000. That’s insanely expensive, but it could be the normal price range as rival companies like AeroMobil, Moller International, and PAL-V have also said that their versions of a flying car would cost about the same.

It’s an exciting thought. It really is. But until all these issues are addressed – and each and every one of them are huge issues – it’s incredibly hard to get too excited about the possibilities of a flying car.

Source: freepatentsonline

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