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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

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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.”


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.


“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.”


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


“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.”