By Devin Fehely

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — It may look like something straight out of Star Wars, but flying motorcycles are almost here.

They could be ready to hit the sky in just a few short years.

“Three years from now flying cars will be very hot,” said Kitty Hawk CEO Sebastian Thrun.

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It seems like the stuff of science fiction, but Thrun — engineer, entrepreneur and one-time driving force behind Google’s autonomous car program — says flying vehicles are just a few years, not decades away.

“We should not be getting stuck in the Lincoln Tunnel or the Bay Bridge anymore,” said Thrun. “You should just be able to go on your flying motorcycle and go wherever you want to go. That is actually becoming reality now.”

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Thrun made that cheadline-grabbing claim during his talk on Day 2 of the Tech Crunch conference in San Francisco.

“We actually believe we’ll have our first product ready in February of next year. And it’s more of like a flying motorcycle than a flying car,” Thrun said.

It looks kind of like an airborne jet ski. A very rough prototype was unveiled in April.

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Thrun says the technology could someday revolutionize transportation as the innovations behind self-driving cars and drones merge.

“It’s an electric aircraft,” Thrun said. “And everything that’s hard about flying is done by the computer — all the wind computation stuff. And I get a joy stick interface that’s just like a video game. And it’s just as much fun as a video game, but it’s real.”

If two or three years seems likely an overly optimistic estimate about when flying vehicles might be on the market, Thrun says much like self-driving cars, technology will outpace regulations, leaving the rule makers struggling to catch up.

Comments (33)
  1. Jeff Sherman says:

    Drivers are bad enough as it is. Imagine accidents in the air….guaranteed death

  2. So now instead of some moron cutting me off or tailgating me on a highway at 70 mph he can do the same at 1,000 at 110 mph feet causing me to augur into someones house and killing a family. Interesting.

  3. Bill Frood says:

    Can you imagine a car accident at that height? As debris is rained down upon an unsuspecting public? Brilliant!!

  4. Stop Using Google, Amazon and Facebook!

  5. Will never see either the car or the motorcycle. Flying is a VERY dangerous sport. It requires great skill and knowledge of winds and weather. No AI enhancement can make anyone safe off the ground without the requisite skills. There will not be a market for these things since the average person will be unable to fly them. Wanna bet the Thrun is not a pilot?

    1. Ken Dicus says:

      Flying is NOT a dangerous sport. You are more likely to crash or be injured/killed simply driving to the Airport.
      That being said, I hope that IF these things become a norm, then there is a “Stupid Jerk” filter on them. Kinda like an ignition interlock to keep reckless people from flying them.

      Flying is relatively easy. It’s the landings you really have to watch out for!!

      🙂

  6. Ken Dicus says:

    Those things didn’t work too well in the movie Judge Dred.

  7. Jack Inmanz says:

    Flying cars and, by extension, flying motorcycles have been the next big thing since the 1950’s.

  8. “Rulemakers” will NEVER catch up to real people – they’re just greedy, inept parasites who could only get government jobs. Maxine Waters, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Milhous Felon – I’m looking at YOU.

  9. Tom Menino says:

    Will bring a whole new level of challenge to skeet shooting.

  10. Colony828 says:

    Yup. Can’t wait for granny to cruise right into my 14th story office window that her GPS directed her into.

  11. Ken Valley says:

    Interesting, that average car drivers can’t even drive straight, and they’re going to ride in flying motorcycles? How idiotic is this? Leave it to the pot-smoking liberals in MexiFornia to come up with moronic, unrealistic ideas! Then, again, liberalism is a Mental disease that can never be cured!

    1. dt60093 says:

      GPSs are 3D already. Just download an app (such as My GPS Altitude) that shows altitude in addition to latitude and longitude.

  12. I hate stupid utopian stories like this. We’re never gonna live in a Jetsons society. Enough with feeding people such nonsense.

  13. No way this is as soon as 1.5 years out. No, more like 15 to 20 years. These CEOs are more like carnival barkers than anything else these days. He has to hype it with crazy predictions or he won’t find the money he needs to sustain things for the next couple of decades. Look at self driving cars….they have them already and they work well, but you still won’t be using one for another 5 years at the earliest.

  14. Computers will keep the proper separation. They will be more like 1 passenger drones. They will be safer than driving.

  15. Tom Bright says:

    Free as a bird? Hardly. In today’s general aviation — Piper Cubs to jumbo jets — 95% of each operator’s attention DURING THE FLIGHT focuses on traffic plans, permissions, hardware management, weather and more. We have already reached attention saturation. Only the smartest and richest among us can afford the time and cash to fly small planes, yet they die at a rate 119 times that of driving, according to NTSB and NHTSA.

  16. Fully autonomous flying vehicles (that cannot be controlled by humans, and instead use better-performing machine intelligence) with enough failsafes in place may turn out to be safer than driving on the road, just like flying in a plane is objectively safer than driving. There’s a whole lot of space to maneuver in the sky, and ejection and parachuting of you and your seat is an option. More people die from car crashes than plane crashes by far (5 million automobile crashes per year versus just 20 airplane crashes… yes, twenty), and I bet you that plane crashes would have less deaths if planes included parachutes and auto-ejection for each passenger in the event of catastrophic failure.

    Anyone who looks at those numbers and reaches the conclusion that flying vehicles are not as safe is fooling themselves. A flying car or vehicle at relatively low altitude (but higher than any structure) carrying a light payload without the ability to be directly controlled by a malevolent or more erroneous human being is more likely than not going to be safer than automobiles in their current form today. The vision system behind autonomous vehicles is already better at identifying random objects in the world than real human beings, and still has the ability to improve further in this and every other respect.

    Also, autonomous vehicles rely on recognition of and reaction to objects and conditions in the external environment; what is there to see up in the sky? Other cars? Birds? Rain? Snow? Storms? Possibly falling vehicles or planes or parachuted passengers? It’s not really all that hard to think about, nor is there as much to worry about up there as there is on the ground because a vehicle trained for each of these conditions enough is very capable of avoiding them.

    PLUS, with direction of motion dependent on altitude and location possibly being a thing we can regulate from the get-go, there shouldn’t be much to worry about with regards to collisions.

    Can none of you previously detracting commenters really conceive of any of these possibilities given advanced enough development in the field?

  17. Yeah, yeah, since my grade school years [in the scholastic weekly reader] we’ve been promised flying cars… and every now and then a story like this appears … not to mention the whole Jetsons cartoon promise… so SIXTY years later, or so, NOTHING!!! Except for the elite-richies and James Bond movies.

    1. I do agree with you in that the technology will only be adopted by the general public in some 30+ years’ time, but it won’t be due to the tech itself, which is swiftly developing in that direction. Most of the hurdles will be government regulation, corporate interests, and public perception.

  18. savagemoto says:

    But my only question is… how would you wheelie?

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