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“飞行汽车”不再是遥不可及的梦

更新时间:2017-4-26 12:20:28 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

No Longer a Dream: Silicon Valley Takes On the Flying Car
“飞行汽车”不再是遥不可及的梦

CLEARLAKE, Calif. — On a recent afternoon, an aerospace engineer working for a small Silicon Valley company called Kitty Hawk piloted a flying car above a scenic lake about 100 miles north of San Francisco.

加利福尼亚州克利尔湖——前不久的一个下午,硅谷一家名叫“基蒂霍克”(Kitty Hawk)的小公司的航空工程师驾驶飞行汽车,在旧金山以北约100英里外一座风景秀丽的湖泊上飞翔。

Kitty Hawk’s flying car, if you insisted on calling it a “car,” looked like something Luke Skywalker would have built out of spare parts. It was an open-seated, 220-pound contraption with room for one person, powered by eight battery-powered propellers that howled as loudly as a speedboat.

基蒂霍克的飞行汽车——如果你坚持称之为“汽车”的话——看上去就像天行者卢克用零部件组装起来的。这是一个有开放式座椅的新奇装置,220磅重,可供一人乘坐,由八个以电池为动力的螺旋桨驱动,发出像快艇一样巨大的咆哮声。

The tech industry, as we are often told, is fond of disrupting things, and lately the automakers have been a big target. Cars that use artificial intelligence to drive themselves, for example, have been in development for a few years and can be spotted on roads in a number of cities. And now, coming onto the radar screen, are flying machines that do not exactly look like your father’s Buick with wings.

正如我们经常被告知的那样,科技行业喜欢颠覆,最近汽车制造商成了他们的大目标。比如说,经过了几年的开发,许多城市的道路上已经可以看到使用人工智能自动驾驶的汽车。现在,飞行的机器又来到雷达显示屏上,它们并不完全像是给老爸的别克轿车加上一对翅膀。

More than a dozen start-ups backed by deep-pocketed industry figures like Larry Page, a Google founder — along with big aerospace firms like Airbus, the ride-hailing company Uber and even the government of Dubai — are taking on the dream of the flying car.

在谷歌创始人之一拉里·佩奇(Larry Page)等富有的业内人士、空中客车公司(Airbus)等大型航空公司、叫车公司优步(Uber)甚至是迪拜政府等各方面支持下,十几家初创企业都在追求飞行汽车这个梦想。

The approaches by the different companies vary and the realization of their competing visions seems far in the future, but they have one thing in common: a belief that one day regular people should be able to fly their own vehicles around town.

不同公司采取的方法也各不相同,而且他们的各种愿景似乎要到遥远的未来才能实现,但是他们有一个共同点:相信总有一天,普通人应该可以开着车,在城里四处飞翔。

There are challenges, no doubt, with both the technology and government regulations. Perhaps the biggest hurdle will be convincing the public that the whole idea isn’t crazy.

毫无疑问,他们在技术和政府法规方面都面临挑战。也许最大的障碍是说服公众,整个想法并不疯狂。

“I love the idea of being able to go out into my backyard and hop into my flying car,” said Brad Templeton, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has served as a consultant on Google’s self-driving project. “I hate the idea of my next-door neighbor having one.”

“我走进后院,跳进自己的飞行汽车——我喜欢这个想法,”硅谷企业家布拉德·邓普顿(Brad Templeton)曾担任谷歌自动驾驶项目的顾问,他说。“但是想到邻居有这么一辆车我会不爽。”

Kitty Hawk, the company backed by Mr. Page, is trying to be one of the first out of the gate and plans to start selling its vehicle by the end of the year.

得到佩奇投资的基蒂霍克公司正试图成为先行者,计划在年底之前开始销售它的载具。

The company has attracted intense interest because of Mr. Page and its chief executive, Sebastian Thrun, an influential technologist and self-driving car pioneer who is the founding director of Google’s X lab.

这家公司引起了人们的高度关注,既是因为佩奇,也是因为它的首席执行官塞巴斯蒂安·特龙(Sebastian Thrun)是谷歌X实验室创始负责人,他是一位很有影响力的技术专家,也是自动驾驶汽车领域的先驱。

In 2013, Zee Aero, a Kitty Hawk division, became the object of Silicon Valley rumors when reports of a small air taxilike vehicle first surfaced.

2013年,关于小型空中出租车式交通工具的报道开始出现,基蒂霍克的分公司Zee Aero也成为硅谷传言的话题。

Mr. Page declined a request for an interview but said in a statement: “We’ve all had dreams of flying effortlessly. I’m excited that one day very soon I’ll be able to climb onto my Kitty Hawk Flyer for a quick and easy personal flight.”

佩奇拒绝了采访请求,并在一份声明中说:“我们都有毫不费力地在空中飞行的梦想。不久后的一天,我就能够登上自己的基蒂霍克飞行器(Kitty Hawk Flyer),轻松快速地进行个人飞行,这令我兴奋不已。”

During his recent test flight, Cameron Robertson, the aerospace engineer, used two joysticklike controls to swing the vehicle back and forth above Clear Lake, sliding on the air as a Formula One car might shimmy through a racecourse. The flight, just 15 feet above the water, circled over the lake about 20 or 30 yards from shore, and after about five minutes Mr. Robertson steered back to a floating landing pad at the end of a dock.

最近一次试飞时,航空工程师卡梅隆·罗伯逊(Cameron Robertson)使用两个游戏操纵杆般的控制器,驾驶着飞行器在克利尔湖上空来回摇摆,在空中滑翔而过,就像一级方程式赛车优雅地在赛道上行驶一样。飞行器距离水面15英尺,在距离湖岸约20或30码的地方绕湖飞行,大约五分钟后,罗伯逊掉头转向一座码头末端的浮动着陆垫。

The Kitty Hawk Flyer is one of several prototypes the start-up, based in Mountain View, Calif., is designing. The company hopes to create an audience of enthusiasts and hobbyists, who later this year will be able to pay $100 to sign up for a $2,000 discount on the retail price of a Flyer to “gain exclusive access to Kitty Hawk experiences and demonstrations where a select few will get the chance to ride the Flyer.”

这家初创公司位于加利福尼亚州山景城,基蒂霍克飞行器是公司正在设计的几个原型机之一。该公司希望打造一个由狂热爱好者和业余爱好者组成的受众群,这些人在今年晚些时候可以支付100美元注册,今后购买基蒂霍克飞行器时可获得2000美元的折扣,并“获得独家基蒂霍克体验和演示,被选中的少数人将有机会驾驶飞行器。”

It is an unusual offer, since the company has not yet set a price for the vehicle, and Mr. Thrun’s and Mr. Page’s involvement can be taken as evidence that the company is aiming far beyond hobbyists. Still, Kitty Hawk is clearly targeting a new kind of transportation — air flight that can be performed safely by most people and hopefully with government approval.

这个条件很不寻常,因为公司还没有为飞行器设定价格,而特龙和佩奇的参与可以证明公司的目标远远超出业余爱好者的范畴。毕竟,基蒂霍克的目标显然是开发一种新型交通工具,实现可由大多数人安全操作的空中飞行,并且希望得到政府的批准。

“We hope that this is more of an exciting concept than what most people have had in their minds about flying cars,” Mr. Robertson said. “This is not yet that product in terms of what we will say and what it can do, but I think it demonstrates a vision of the future.”

“我们希望这更像一种令人兴奋的概念,而不仅仅是大多数人头脑中想象的那种会飞的汽车,”罗伯逊说。“关于这种产品,我们还不能说太多,也不能说它可以用来做什么,但我认为它表明了未来的愿景。”

Kitty Hawk could face stiff competition, not just from about a half dozen start-ups, but from the giant Airbus, headquartered in Blagnac, France. The aerospace firm has announced two different vertical takeoff and landing, or VTOL, concepts and is reported to be planning an initial test flight before the end of the year.

基蒂霍克可能面临激烈的竞争,不仅仅是来自其他大约六家左右的初创公司,还有总部位于法国布拉尼亚克的巨头空中客车公司。这家航空公司已经宣布了两种不同的垂直起降(简称VTOL)概念飞行器,据报道,公司有计划在年底之前进行初次试飞。

At the Geneva International Motor Show last month, Airbus proposed an autonomous vehicle named Pop.Up that would operate on both the ground and in the air. And this year, the government of Dubai, in partnership with a Chinese firm, EHang, said it planned to begin operating an autonomous flying taxi by this July. Also, Uber is expected on Tuesday to detail its “vision for the future of Urban Air Mobility” at a conference in Dallas.

在上个月的日内瓦国际汽车展上,空中客车公司带来了一款名为“Pop.Up”的自动车,可以在地面和空中运作。今年,迪拜政府与中国公司亿航(EHang)合作,表示计划在今年7月开始运营飞行的自动驾驶出租车。此外,优步预计于周二在达拉斯的一个会议上详细阐明该公司的“城市便捷空中出行的未来愿景”。

There is no shortage of skeptics happy to point out the roadblocks for these vehicles. There is already significant resistance to the idea of unmanned drones flying over urban areas, and flying cars could face substantial opposition, even if they can be quieted to automotive noise levels.

有不少怀疑者乐于指出这种交通工具的障碍。在城区上空飞行的无人机已经遭遇激烈抵制,飞行汽车也可能遭到很多人反对,即便它们的噪音可以降至汽车水平。

For these personal air vehicles to become a reality in the United States, the country would need a whole new air traffic control system.

这种个人空中载具在美国要想成为现实,国家需要建立一个全新的空中交通管制系统。

Two years ago, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration began development of an air traffic control system meant for managing all sorts of flying vehicles, including drones. One NASA developer described it as an air traffic control system, “for a sky dark with drones.” Researchers hope testing can begin by 2019.

两年前,NASA开始开发一个用于管理各种飞行器的空中交通管制系统,包括无人机。NASA的一名开发人员称它是为“满是无人机的天空”设计的系统。研究人员希望能在2019年开始进行测试。

Batteries are also an issue. While electric propeller-driven motors seem promising, today’s battery technology cannot support flights of a reasonable distance, say a 30- or 50-mile commute.

电池也是一个问题。虽然电动螺旋桨驱动的发动机似乎很有前途,但当前的电池技术尚不能支持合理距离的飞行,比如30或50英里的通勤距离。

“How is this going to work? I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but we can’t even take our cellphones on airplanes today because of fears about battery fires,” said Missy Cummings, the director of the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory at Duke University, who is researching personal air transport for NASA.

“这怎么能行得通呢?我不想当扫兴的黛比·唐纳(Debbie Downer),但是因为害怕电池着火,我们甚至不能把手机带上飞机,”杜克大学(Duke University)人类与自动化实验室(Humans and Autonomy Laboratory)的主任米茜·卡明斯(Missy Cummings)说。她正在为NASA进行个人空中交通方面的研究。

And don’t forget that flying cars will not be able to pull to the side of the road in an emergency, said John Leonard, a mechanical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

麻省理工学院(Massachusetts Institute of Technology)计算机科学与人工智能实验室(Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory)的机械工程师约翰·伦纳德(John Leonard)表示,不要忘了飞行汽车不能在紧急情况下在路边停靠。

“Silicon Valley is full of very smart people, but they don’t always get the laws of physics,” he said. “Gravity is a formidable adversary.”

“硅谷充满了非常聪明的人,但他们并不总是理解物理规律,”他说,“地心引力是一个强大的对手。”

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