The idea of flying cars was introduced by sci-fi author Jules Verne and has adorned numerous covers of Popular Mechanics magazine ever since.
There has been recent development in cars that fly, including a company that Google co-founder Larry Page invested in, but Toyota’s apparent toe-in-the-water raises some questioning eyebrows. The Japanese automaker has recently been awarded a patent it filed back in March 2014 that covers a “stackable wing for an aerocar.”
Aerocars are defined as vehicles that may be driven on roads as well as take off, fly, and land as aircraft. The patent illustration presents a body style with a rear end similar to the last generation Prius that has a flexible frame and a rear mounted propeller.
Toyota’s stackable wing design does resolve one of the major challenges of flying cars.
Rather than wings that fold out from the sides of the vehicle, making it too wide for conventional roads, Toyota’s idea is a stack of multiple wings on top of the vehicle to provide needed aerodynamic lift. When the car is in what Toyota describes as the “roadable mode,” additional wings can be stacked atop the first. When the driver wants to transition from driving to flight, one wing rises from the roof and rotates into position, a second can then be deployed, followed by a third and fourth.
According to the patent, the aerocar could be propelled by such things as “a pusher propeller, open rotor, turbofan, or other thrust generation system in flight mode.”
If a flying car patent were issued to say, Honda, who already has the Honda Jet, self-propelled lawn mowers and the Asimo robot, no one would have second thoughts. But maybe Toyota isn’t really thinking about a flying car, instead it’s trying to figure out a way to make a car that hovers.
At a Next Big Thing Summit in San Francisco a couple of years back, Hiroyoshi Yoshiki — the managing officer with Toyota’s technical administration group — said the plan is to get the car “a little bit away” from the road to reduce friction, similar to a hovercraft. Then again, the automotive giant might just be hedging its bets on the future when flying cars are no longer a dream. Companies patent things all the time that they never intend to actually produce. They just want to make sure that no one else can try out the idea except them.
Which is sad, really. We could definitely get behind a flying Prius.