BlackFly ‘flying car’ to hit the market in 2019 for the price of an SUV

Are we sure this isn't alien technology?

BlackFly ‘flying car’ to hit the market in 2019 for the price of an SUV
(Opener)
  • A Larry Page-backed company has announced that its flying car will go on sale in 2019.
  • It's called the BlackFly.
  • Not quite the escape from traffic you had in mind, but it's a jaw-dropping start.

Hey, it's the future. We're supposed to have flying cars, right? Well, here's your flying car, sort of and again. It's slated to go on sale in 2019. It's called the BlackFly and the company manufacturing it, Opener, is backed at least partially by Alphabet's Larry Page, who's been rumored to have been tinkering with such craft for a while, working with a few partners. Alan Eustace, who's been on Big Think, is an Opener technical advisor.

BlackFly isn't really much of a car-car. It can only travel on roads when it's being carried by its pair of carts, so your seamless, cruise-down-from-the-sky-and-onto-the-road vehicle hasn't quite arrived yet. And you'll be driving BlackFly solo—it holds just one person of up to 6.5 feet in height and weighing in a 250 lbs. But still, wow.

BlackFly in the sky

Here's the official launch video. Imagine seeing this while out on a hike.

As you might expect, where the strikingly futuristic, all-electric BlackFly shines is in the air. It can take off and land vertically (VTOL), and travel at a speed of 62 mph. It has a range of about 25 miles before its onboard battery needs to be recharged much like an electric car. With a rounded bottom, it sort of rocks itself into position as it lands.

Both its speed and range are limited by U.S. FAA regulations. It can go faster and farther in Canada, for example. (More on the regs below.)

Is this thing safe? Is it any fun?

Being at the forefront of personal flight, BlackFly sports three fail-safe flight systems, including a glide mode in case the power fails. There's also an optional parachute for the cautious. And the craft has been tested rigorously, successfully transporting a full payload for 12,000 miles. The propulsion systems made it through 40,000 flight cycles, the equivalent of 25 trips around Earth.

Being so high-tech, operation of the BlackFly is purported to be pretty easy, with a simple user interface, an "intuitive joystick," "soft-landing assist," and even a "Return-to-Home" button. In any event, Opener will be requiring buyers of the BlackFly to have successfully completed the FAA's private-pilot written test first.

The company says BlackFly will be capable of autonomous flight somewhere down the, er, road.

Sky legal

Opener

The FAA considers the BlackFly an ultralight vehicle, which limits its usefulness for escaping traffic jams—it's only allowed to fly over non-congested areas.

More targeted regulations are unlikely to be formulated quickly enough for businesses like Opener and Uber—which expects to have flying taxis up in the air by 2023—or some members of Congress. So says the FAA's acting administrator Dan Elwell at the Uber Elevate summit. When a suggestion was made that flying cars could be allotted their own air space, Elwell, responded, "What you just described is where we don't want to go. You just described segregated airspace. My hope is that we don't have to do that." Still, he says a legal framework for flying-car operation is more a matter of when than if. FAA spokesman Les Dorr tells the Washington Examiner, "The FAA has anticipated these vehicles for some time and is working with industry to help them develop their ideas."

Opener's flying SUV

Opener hasn't yet published a price for the BlackFly, excerpt to say that "In full production, BlackFly will be the price of an SUV. We are vague about the exact price so as not to overpromise." It hasn't yet established a waiting list, so there's no preordering going on yet. There is a mailing list so you can keep up with development, including air show appearances where you can see BlackFly in person. The website also lists its social media accounts.

Why name it BlackFly? Opener says, "Black flies are insects with outstanding aerodynamic and VTOL capabilities. They have the same color as the black carbon fibers in our fuselage. They are disruptive." Well, yes. But they also bite.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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