Jack Hitt drove his newly-converted electric car to Yale University Art Gallery Sunday. In 10 years, he expects to fly there instead, in his car.
That’s what he came to the gallery to talk about.
Terrafugia, a company combining driving and aviation since 2006, plans to make TF-X flying cars (pictured) widely available in the next 10 years, Hitt said, revolutionizing the way people get from point A to point B. The TF-X would take off like a helicopter and potentially reach speeds of 200 miles per hour.
Hitt drew on those plans as he lectured Sunday on “From Electric Car to Obsolete Highway” as part of the International Festival of Arts and Ideas, and took place Sunday, June 15. The New York Time Magazine and New Yorker writer is the author of Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character. His one-man show, Making Up The Truth, was part of the 2011 festival.
Car-plane hybrids for everyday use have been in the works for years; there’s no guarantee it will happen in the next decade. (Here’s a skeptical take on the subject, including a look at Terrafusia’s original plan to launch flying cars back in 2010).
Aside from the TF-X possibly hitting the market in the coming years, Hitt explained how automakers are focusing more and more on the idea of the automated vehicle, thanks to developments in clean fuel.
Recent milestones like the Google driverless car and Ford’s self-parking car are some examples. But it doesn’t stop there.
Hitt listed dozens of additional automated features that all newly-made vehicles could possess in the future: Cars with headlight intensity that adjust to the lights of oncoming vehicles, making night driving clearer and safer. Audis with automated driving during stop-and-go traffic and the ability to self-park in garages. Transponders that communicate with other cars, identifying when to avoid obstacles in the road; and blind spot identification.
Many cars, like the Google car, won’t even need steering wheels.
“There’s an arms race going on with car companies to get the next best thing,” said Hitt. “If we are in the middle of innovation, car companies are weaning us away from the idea of controlling a car.”
He added that putting more sensors and computerized programs in cars could cut down motor vehicle fatalities in the U.S. almost in half. The hardest part, Hitt continued, would be convincing Americans to give up their power, control and freedom over their vehicles.
Buying a newer vehicle may be unavoidable if insurance companies start requiring these new features. “These new drivers aids”— automated braking and blind-spot warning systems—“once those start to come online in the car … insurance companies ultimately will make it more burdensome to own an older car because you don’t have these new systems,” Hitt said.
Inspired by the thought of self-sufficiency, Hitt has taken steps to incorporate clean fuel into his lifestyle, starting with converting his combustion-engine 2004 Volkswagen Cabrio to all-electric.
Hitt and his friend Anthony Rish, a professor at Gateway, spent an entire year gutting out the engine, muffler and gas tank from the car. In its place are three, suitcase-sized lithium ion batteries.
The Volkswagen emblem on its hood now disguises an electric outlet for charging. In “laboratory conditions,” the car can reach about 90 miles per hour.
The next plan, Hitt says, is to install solar panels if his roof can handle the weight. Almost $40,000 later, Hitt joked, the cost to power the vehicle is ultimately eliminated.