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It’s the year 2020…

But where are the flying cars? And hyperloops? And other things we were promised?

Uber will deploy flying cars

When Uber Technologies Inc. pledged to deliver on a promise of the Jetsons, it gave itself just three years to do so. The company still intends to hold flight demonstrations in 2020, but it’s safe to say you will not be able to hail a flying Uber in the next year. The company continues to explore the concept with regulators. In 2019, Uber added a form of flying vehicle that’s not particularly cutting edge: It’s booking helicopter rides in New York City. In December, Uber said it was working with a startup, Joby Aviation, to develop “aerial ride-sharing” and set a deadline of 2023. Uber Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi tweeted: “Getting closer …”

We first heard about this in 2017, and in 2018 we were told that NASA was testing these babies. Since then, we have also heard of flying motorcycles and these weird, drone-like things, but as yet, no flying vehicles that aren’t planes or helicopters. Mark your calendars for 2023 and ask me again.

The first 60-mile hyperloop ride will take place

In 2013, Elon Musk outlined his vision for a new “fifth mode of transportation” that would involve zipping people through tubes at speeds as fast as 800 miles per hour. Several tech entrepreneurs heeded Musk’s call and went to work on such systems inspired by the billionaire’s specifications. In 2015, one of the leading startups predicted a hyperloop spanning about 60 miles would be ready for human transport by 2020. Rob Lloyd, then the CEO of Hyperloop Technologies, told Popular Science: “I’m very confident that’s going to happen.”

It hasn’t. His company, now called Virgin Hyperloop One, has a 1,600-foot test track in California and hopes to build a 22-mile track in Saudi Arabia someday. Musk has since experimented with hyperloops of his own, and even he has had to scale back his ambitions. Musk’s Boring Co. is building a so-called Loop system in Las Vegas, starting with a nearly mile-long track that consists of a narrow tunnel and Tesla cars moving at up to 155 miles per hour.

Man, I was enthusiastic for this, ever since 2015 when we first heard the word “hyperloop”. Skepticism was warranted, and the technology has evolved over time, but we’re still waiting.

Toyota will make fully self-driving cars

Auto and tech companies alike became convinced this decade that computers would soon be able to drive cars more reliably than people. In 2015, Toyota Motor Corp. made a companywide bet that it would have autonomous highway-driving cars on the road by 2020. It didn’t take long for the hype cycle to veer off course. In 2018, a pedestrian died after colliding with an Uber self-driving car. In 2020, Toyota’s Lexus brand will introduce a car capable of driving autonomously on the highway, but executives acknowledged that auto companies were “revising their timeline for AI deployment significantly.”

Honestly, I’ve probably been more skeptical of the many breathless claims about driverless cars than I’ve been about hyperloops. That skepticism was also warranted, though to be fair, various forms of autonomous vehicles have been on the road. They’re still not ready for mass market use, and probably won’t be for at least another decade, but they’re not vaporware, either. As above, check back with me in a couple of years and we’ll see where we are.

Flying motorcycles

Look out above.

A team of engineers at Texas A&M University is participating in the $2 million-plus GoFly Prize competition, an event sponsored by the aerospace company Boeing to challenge engineers to develop flying devices that are relatively quiet, fit in the garage and can carry one person for 20 miles without refueling or recharging.

The College Station team, called Texas A&M Harmony, and its motorcycle-like device has so far received $70,000 as a winning team in the competition’s paper design and prototype phases. It’s now preparing for the final competition in which teams fly full-scale designs in early 2020.


“People have been trying to build flying cars for the last 70, 80 years,” said Moble Benedict, team captain and assistant professor in Texas A&M’s Department of Aerospace Engineering. “We still don’t see flying cars anywhere. And that’s because there are some inherent issues with the designs people are coming up with.”

Some designs would produce flying transports that are too loud for neighborhoods, he said, others that are too large for the typical commuter. The GoFly Prize competition addresses such problems by requiring that competing devices be no larger than 8½ feet in any direction. And from 50 feet away, they can’t be louder than 87 decibels – the sound level of a hair dryer.

“At first we thought this was impossible,” Benedict said. “We thought these were unrealistic requirements from GoFly. But then we said, ‘Let’s try it.’”

They soon came up with Aria. Like its namesake, the operatic aria sung by just one person, the flying device is designed for one person sitting upright. Two stacked rotors, essentially large fans that sit on top of each other and turn in opposite directions, enable it to fly.

The Aria could reach top speeds between 80 mph and 90 mph when the driver throttles forward. A flight computer stabilizes the vehicle and allows it to be controlled with a flight stick, almost like playing a video game. For the GoFly competition, the team will pilot the vehicle remotely and have a 200-pound dummy in the driver’s seat.

The rotors are specially designed to hold down the noise and not to pester neighbors when early-morning commuters take off for work.

“It won’t sound like a swarm of hornets in the morning,” said Farid Saemi, the team’s lead on electric powertrain propulsion and a doctoral student studying aerospace engineering.

Between this and the Uber flying cars that are (supposedly) being tested by NASA, 2020 could be a banner year for flying vehicles. Or possibly a banner year for internal combustion engines falling from the sky. I don’t envy the next head of the FAA when the rulemaking process gets started. The cost of thie A&M flying motorcycle is $500K, and I presume that’s without the customization options. Start saving your pennies now if you want one of these babies, is what I’m saying. I’ll try to keep an eye on these developments, while hopefully remaining safely under cover. The downtown tunnels have never looked better.

Safe Passing Act moving forward

The Chron has an overview of the Safe Passing Act.

Cyclists always worry about close calls with motorists. That’s why many are paying attention to legislation making headway with Texas lawmakers this spring aiming to make drivers more responsible for their vehicles.

Motorists could be charged with a misdemeanor offense if they don’t give cyclists at least three feet passing clearance in most circumstances.

“It’s important for motorists to understand that close counts — just like in horseshoes,” said Robin Stallings, executive director of BikeTexas. “This bill has the potential to educate motorists that getting close is far more dangerous than they expected.”

The Safe Passing Bill (SB 488) also would ban the “right hook,” a dangerous turn made in front of a vulnerable road user — including cyclists, pedestrians, runners, motorcyclists and construction workers. Violations could result in a $500 fine.

Accidents resulting in injury could subject motorists to a Class B misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine.

SB488 passed out of the House Transportation Committee last week. I don’t see it on the House calendar yet, but given that it’s come this far and doesn’t seem to be particularly controversial, I feel pretty confident that it won’t be a calendars casualty. The fact that it has till May 26 to be passed in the House doesn’t hurt, either.

More on the safe passing bill

Bike activist and frequent commenter Peter Wang gets some press.

Bicyclist Peter Wang considers Houston traffic a tameable wilderness.

He’s dodged his share of open car doors, but over the years, he’s learned how to maneuver around unaccommodating drivers.

“You might be expecting me to say that drivers in Houston are awful and bicycling is unsafe,” said Wang, a Bike Houston board member. “What I found is, if you’re trained properly, you make your own safety to a large extent.”

That’s where Sen. Rodney Ellis rides in.

The Houston Democrat, also an avid cyclist, has penned a bill to protect his fellow bicyclists, along with pedestrians, motorcyclists, runners, horse riders and farmers. In Ellis’ bill they are considered “vulnerable road users.”

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics support the descriptor. In 2007, the last year for which statistics are available, 698 cyclists were killed in the United States, 48 of them in Texas. Also that year, 4,833 motorcyclists, 375 of them in Texas, and 4,654 pedestrians were killed.

Under Ellis’ bill, co-authored by state Sen. John Carona, D-Dallas, drivers would have to get out of a traffic lane used by a vulnerable road user if another is available. Motorists should pass them at a “safe distance” of more than 3 feet if the motorist is in a car or light truck. Six feet would be considered safe for heavy trucks or commercial vehicles. Seven states, including Arizona, Florida and Oklahoma have similar laws on their books, according to Ellis’ office.

The bill also would require drivers making left turns at intersections to yield to bicyclists or other road users approaching in the opposite direction. Motorists also would be barred from intimidating or harassing bicyclists and pedestrians and would be prohibited from opening a vehicle door that interferes with their ride or walk.

“Everyone is affected by this bill,” Wang said, “because everyone has been broken down by the side of the road before. … No one has the right to harass you or throw things at you.”

If the bill passes, violators who cause property damage would be cited with a misdemeanor and fined up to $500. If the violation results in injury, a driver could be cited for a Class B misdemeanor.

Ellis’ bill is SB488, and its companion in the House is HB827. See MTBLawGirl and for more info or if you want to get involved.

Give bikes a little space

MTBLawGirl passes on word of a bill that will be of interest to bicyclists.

Earlier this month, Texas Senator Rodney Ellis and Representative Linda Harper-Brown filed the Safe Passing Bill in the Senate (SB 488) and House (HB 827) respectively. In addition to requiring more than three feet passing distance when a motorist passes a vulnerable road user, it will include penalties for throwing projectiles, “dooring”, the “right hook” (turning dangerously in front of a vulnerable road user), and more. Vulnerable road users include cyclists, pedestrians, runners, farmers on tractors, motorcycles and more. This bill, specifically the definition of “vulnerable road user” is modeled after similar legislation in Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. This is a huge step forward for Texas in actualizing “Share the Road” and reducing fatalities. Sadly, approximately 50 cyclists, 400 pedestrians and 500 motorcyclists are killed every year in Texas.

I’m guessing these are the same bills that the Texas Motorcycle Roadriders Association will be lobbying for as well. That suggests to me that there’s a decent chance of passage. If this interests you, click on over to MTBLawGirl and drop her a note.

Talk to them about helmet laws

Last month, I noted that some police departments will be lobbying the Legislature to require motorcyclists to wear helmets, which would effectively repeal a law from 1997 that granted them the ride to ride bareheaded if they had sufficient insurance. I figured that wouldn’t happen without a fight from the motorcycle enthusiasts, and sure enough, they’ve made their way to Austin this week to play defense on that issue, among other things. They also have their own legislation in mind.

Pegasus, a lifelong motorcyclist and vice president of the Texas Motorcycle Roadriders Association, said her organization came to discuss a bill concerning a driver’s failure to yield the right of way to another vehicle. She, along with many other concerned bikers, said she believed the majority of motorcycle accidents occur when distracted drivers fail to yield the right of way to motorcycles.

Under Texas law, a driver who causes serious bodily injury or death to a victim is punishable by a maximum fine of $4,000 and 30 days or up to a year in jail.

“I’m tired of people killing motorcyclists and not being held responsible,” Pegasus said. “That’s bullshit. Driving is a privilege and a responsibility that needs to be upheld.”

Pegasus endorsed higher penalties and prison sentences for anyone guilty of harming a biker by failing to yield the right of way.

“Cyclists have many rights that we don’t have. Why? Because they lobbied,” she said. “These people represent hundreds of people around the state. We’re gonna get heard.”

Now those will be hearings worth attending. Oh, and it’s good to hear from Sputnik again, too. Good luck, y’all.