Jet packs and personal helicopters may be fodder for sci-fi movies and cartoons, but a handful of entrepreneurs are working to make them real. And while some of these inventions may be prohibitively expensive for some (read: $2,000,000 for a submarine), here's a look at seven vehicles that have the potential to make us travel more efficiently—and more futuristically. What adventurous entrepreneur can wait to get behind the wheel of a car with wings?
Terrafugia, a Woburn, Massachusetts-based start-up, announced earlier this week that that its prototype flying car has completed its first flight—exciting news for the 100 people who've put down a $10,000 deposit. "We look forward to continuing to show that the challenges of bringing a practical street-legal airplane to market can be overcome...We are on our way up—literally and figuratively!" said Terrafugia co-founder Carl Dietrich in a statement. The vehicle, christened "Transition," has two seats, four wheels, and folding wings. It's flown at 1,400 feet at about 115 mph. On the ground, it can reach 70 mph at about 35 miles per gallon. The price tag? About $240,000.
Conjuring some serious sci-fi images, the Martin JetPack achieves what so may of us dreamed about as kids: Instant liftoff. Glenn Martin, founder of Martin Aircraft, which is based in New Zealand, began working on the jet pack about four years ago. The device has two side-mounted fans, powered by a 200-horsepower engine and can lift a human up to 8,000 feet at a speed of 63 mph. The company was making about $750,000 in revenue, mostly from commercial and military contracts, when Inc. profiled Martin Aircraft last year. "Fiction had an idea of what this looks like," Martin told Inc. "We produce something that works."
Yes, this is real. The Killer Whale Submarine, built by Hammacher Schlemmer, the 164-year-old creator and retailer (of notoriously bizarre items), created a "streamlined, two-person watercraft that breaches and submerges just like the Orcinus orca after which it is designed." The sub retails for a cool $100,000 but if you're traveling by sea, it's speedy ride: The sub can hydroplane up to 50 mph over the water's surface and can cruise at up to 25 mph while submerged. The cockpit's dashboard includes a speedometer, tachometer, engine, and air-pressure gauges. Oh, and it also includes an LCD screen with a life feed from the dorsal fin's built-in camera.
PAL-V Europe NV launched in the Netherlands in 2001 to design what it calls a "roadable aircraft." A decade later, the PAL-V One is part car, part helicopter. On the ground, the vehicle, which has three wheels, drives like a motorcycle, and can hit speeds of 112 mph on the road. In the air, it flies below 4,000 feet, but can hit speeds of nearly 100 knots—that's pretty zippy for a tiny aircraft that weighs about 1,500 pounds. The PAL-V One is in the final stages of licensing—putting it in direct competition with the Terrafugia Flying Car.
The Embrio advanced concept vehicle is "a one-wheeled commuting vehicle that promises a whole new experience on the road," according to its maker, BRP, a design and manufacturing firm of vehicles and powersports engines based in Quebec. The main power source would be a hydrogen fuel cell, and when not in use, the vehicle's front wheels descent to the ground like a plane's landing gear. "Thus stabilized, the Embrio concept looks perfectly at home in the urban landscape, displaying the beauty of its sculptural lines until it's time to go for a ride," the company notes.
"The e-volo multicopter is an innovative, vertical takeoff and landing, human carrying transportation device that establishes a new category of flying vehicle," explain the founders of e-volo, a Germany-based company working on building an entirely new breed of electric vehicles. Thomas Senkel, who developed the concept as a graduate physicist and is an avid paraglider, built the helicopter to be super light—at 15'x15', the vehicle weighs less than 200 pounds. Although the e-volo is functional, there will still be plenty of time before it hits the market. "This could be the future of flight, piloting a device as simple as a car," Senkel says.
Aptera Motors began developing this three-wheel electric vehicle in 2005. The company raised several small rounds of funding to get the company off the ground, and in July 2008 Google.org led a Series C funding round of $24 million. The Aptera 2, developed in 2008, used less than half the energy needed to propel the EV1 or the Tesla. But when the recession hit, opportunities for additional funding dried up. The company declared bankruptcy in December 2011. "Car projects are very capital-intensive, and the financial community hadn’t seen stellar volumes from electric cars from Nissan, G.M. and others,” Paul Wilbur, the company's founder and CEO told the New York Times.