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Watch NASA prepare for our flying-car future

Watch NASA prepare for our flying-car future

Instead of taking a bus or train to work, what about a flying car? 

A Nova TV special, The Great Electric Airplane Race, airing Wednesday night on PBS, explores the possibility of using autonomous, battery-powered flight for commuting or taxi trips. 

As part of his research into electric flight, reporter Miles O’Brien visited NASA’s Ames Research Center and hopped into its 10-story vertical motion simulator to see what it would be like to fly around San Francisco in one of these vehicles. 

Electric airplanes, or eVTOLs (electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles) as they’re called in the industry, are currently under development. To move beyond zero-emission prototypes, however, the burgeoning industry needs to overcome short battery range and limited passenger capacity. Most experimental electric craft can last only for about an hour of flight and hold just a few passengers.

While an electric cross-country trip in a full passenger plane isn’t likely anytime soon, a 20-minute, short-haul flight with a passenger or two could happen in the next few years.  Companies like Joby (that’s the company Uber sold its air mobility division to last year) and Kitty Hawk, which boasts backing from Google cofounder Larry Page, have electric plane prototypes currently undergoing testing. 

Nova’s The Great Electric Airplane Race special premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on PBS and is available to stream online or on the PBS video app.

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