Engineers Week: S&T professor says flying cars à la ‘The Jetsons’ will soon be a reality

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On February 22, 2024

Dr. Xiaosong Du works in his office at Missouri S&T. Photo by Greg Edwards/Missouri S&T.

Dr. Xiaosong Du works in his office at Missouri S&T. Photo by Greg Edwards/Missouri S&T.

Remember the flying cars made famous in Hanna-Barbera’s futuristic cartoon, The Jetsons, that first aired in the early 1960s? 

According to Dr. Xiaosong Du, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at Missouri S&T, a similar mode of transportation will be an option for people needing a ride across larger cities in the next 5-10 years.  

Du shared his expertise on the vehicles for Missouri S&T’s article series focusing on the 2024 National Engineers Week theme, which is “Welcome to the Future.” 

“I anticipate that air taxis will revolutionize travel, especially in urban areas that may have more on-ground congestion,” he says. “These electric drones will be the future of transportation for human beings, and they will be here on a larger scale sooner than the public may anticipate.” 

Du, an expert in artificial intelligence who is director of S&T’s Physical Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, says AI will play a significant role for air taxis. 

He works with AI to determine the best designs and methods of operation for the vehicles. Everything from wing designs to optimal takeoff trajectories can be determined with the assistance of AI, he says.  

AI can also be used when the drones are in the air so they can fly as safely and efficiently as possible. For example, it could potentially determine the best wing shapes when considering the air taxis’ speed and efficiency in real time and then adjust the wings accordingly. 

In terms of the future of AI-related research, Du says researchers will typically have collaborative relationships with the technology instead of simply feeding it large amounts of data and then using its responses. Researchers will use their own knowledge and experiences to guide the AI in the right directions to develop data and AI models that can be applied. 

“Sometimes, the AI-generated products may mathematically be feasible, but the designs could not realistically be applied,” Du says. “People may assume that researchers in this field are loading enormous amounts of data for the AI to consider, but we are typically more targeted with our approach. We work closely with the AI rather than letting it run the show.  

“It is important to have human touch and expertise be part of the research.” 

Du says he understands if the speed at which AI, air taxis and other new technologies continue to evolve in the coming years may be overwhelming or concerning to some, but he encourages everyone to keep an open mind and be excited for the future. 

“Technologies that are now common, such as calculators or computers, received their fair share of pushback before they were widely accepted,” he says, “but technology always advances. The key is to always set good standards and be quick to address issues that may arise with society.  

“We should embrace the benefits of new technologies and find the best ways to use them for the benefit of society.” 

For more information about Missouri S&T’s mechanical and aerospace engineering programs, visit

More about Missouri S&T

Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university of over 7,000 students located in Rolla, Missouri. Part of the four-campus University of Missouri System, Missouri S&T offers over 100 degrees in 40 areas of study and is among the nation’s top public universities for salary impact, according to the Wall Street Journal. For more information about Missouri S&T, visit 

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