(CNN) — Towards the end of the 1985 sci-fi classic “Back to the Future,” archetypal mad inventor Doc Brown announces “where we’re going, we don’t need roads” as the time-traveling DeLorean rises into the air. Although flying cars haven’t yet filled our skies, there are several in development.
Last week, Chinese company XPeng X2 successfully conducted the first public test flight of its two-seat flying car at Dubai’s GITEX technology fair, even sharing the DeLorean’s famous gull-wing door design.
The XPeng X2 is lifted vertically off the ground by eight propellers, without the need for a landing strip, making it suitable for urban areas. The vehicle, designed to carry two passengers, is fully electric and its creators say it can rise into the air at about two meters per second and reach speeds of up to 130 kilometers per hour.
Although the test flight only lasted 90 seconds, according to Liu Xinyin, chief aviation specialist at XPeng Aeroht, the technology is close to being ready for public use, but regulations on flying cars are still some way off.
XPeng plans to work with governments to establish regulatory physical infrastructure for flying cars in urban areas, and Liu believes people will be able to use flying cars within limited regulated spaces in just five years. This coincides with the Chinese government’s ambitious plans to launch flying taxis by 2025.
As if flying wasn’t futuristic enough, the XPeng X2 is equipped with AI automation: it can be driven manually or configured for autonomous driving. “Learn to avoid traffic, buildings and people,” says Liu.
Autonomous driving elements pose more difficulties in terms of regulation, and also question public acceptance. Many people continue to worry about safety issues surrounding self-driving autonomous vehicles on land, not to mention vehicles speeding overhead. However, XPeng claims that it is safer for its flying car to drive autonomously than for it to be driven by a human.
There are dozens of flying cars in development around the world, and many of them actually fly, such as Canadian company Opener’s “BlackFly,” SkyDrive Inc’s “SD-03,” and Klein Vision’s “AirCar” prototype, which last year it successfully completed a 35-minute test flight between two cities in Slovakia.
The benefits of flying cars like the XPeng X2 go beyond the realization of pop culture dreams. Its proponents claim that flying cars could revolutionize urban transport, making roads less congested and therefore safer for pedestrians and cyclists, and, in the case of electric vehicles like the XPeng X2, also would reduce carbon emissions.