No, the children’s doodle of a flying car pictured here isn’t a joke. This is an actual Toyota patent filing for a “stackable wing for an aerocar” that was just recently published by the U.S. Patent Office and reported byAutomotive News. That horizontal line with the diagonal squiggles underneath it? That’s the ground. The wheels attached to that baleen Prius-shaped thing with a dorsal fin? Yeah, those are not touching the ground. Now may we direct your attention to the series of wings that look to be fitted to a tall pole protruding from the vehicle’s roof; this stackable wing apparatus forms the actual meat of Toyota’s patent filing.
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To read the patent filing, which was jointly submitted by Toyota and two inventors, is to be fed the assumption that “aerocars” are a mature technology in search of improvements. Trivial matters like propulsion sources are brushed off, Toyota offering that thrust could be sourced from things “such as a pusher propeller, open rotor, turbofan, or other thrust generation system in flight mode.” You know, plane stuff. It appears that Toyota is merely hedging against future use of a similar stacked-wing design with various power sources, both for in-flight and on the road.
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So reconfigure your brains and just assume flying cars are a thing, okay? Addressing aerocar concerns both practical and vain, Toyota claims its novel “closely stowable” wing design, which can collapse into a vaguely car-top carrier–sized volume, “does not interfere with the side and aft view for the driver” when in its “roadable mode.” As for the overall package’s compactness, that “facilitates, for example, a low profile and stylish body design potential.” Driving down the street in your flying car is so much easier when your wings aren’t creating blind spots and cramping your style. It’s mighty considerate of Toyota to think of hypothetical aerocar buyers’ vanity—and a bit surprising, given the look of the new Prius and the Mirai hydrogen-fuel-cell car.
Intriguingly, Toyota’s patent lacks much clarity surrounding the width of the aerocar’s stackable wing sections—and herein lies the patent’s true focus. Assuming the sections are relatively narrow, perhaps as narrow as the car itself (remember, roadable mode visibility is a priority), there is thus a need for multiple airfoils piled atop one another. If you can’t get the necessary wing area (and by the same token, the necessary lift) by stretching out, stretch up! Besides deploying from its stowed “roadable mode,” the wings can assume various positions for takeoff, landing, and cruising. While the highest wing features a fixed section, the lower wings incorporate internal actuators to vary their section (see Fig. 5 and Fig. 6, immediately above); this not only alters the wing’s production of lift, but also enables the wing to shrink in thickness for stowage—a critical capability when multiple wings must be stacked.
We highly doubt Toyota is actively working on a flying car, and most likely this patent is something the company filed, again, to hedge against future, um, innovation in this area. More worryingly, at least from our perspective, is that Toyota was investing time on this baloney while we continue to wait for the fruits of more enticing efforts, like, say, the automaker’s perpetually just-around-the-corner sports car being co-developed with BMW.