Friday, 22 February 2019

Has the time come for flying cars?

Some time ago I clicked on a link (no idea which one) in Facebook that put me on a list of recipients interested in human-sized drones and flying cars. And it’s now a rare day that goes by without some sponsored ad or video showcasing the latest technology. All of which got me thinking a bit about flying cars and whether they’d ever become a reality in my lifetime.

Flying cars have been predicted as being imminent for at least 50 years now with magazines such as Popular Science and Popular Mechanics leading the charge. For many reasons – cost and technology being but two – they have never really taken off (pun intended).

But that is now all changing, and quickly.

Multi-rotor drones of the type predicted in this 1967 issue are becoming commonplace as toys for hobbyists. They are also being used more and more in support of safety and security and business operations. Working prototypes have been developed that can transport a person some distance, limited only by the capacity of the battery power plant. And battery technology is also advancing at a rapid pace, further improving performance.

Another concern was the skill required to operate such a vehicle. With a majority of the population incapable of safe, focused use of a 4-wheeled motor vehicle operating in two dimensions, one can only imagine the chaos adding a third dimension would create. However, advances in AI for self driving cars will be the saviour here, taking control away from the lipstick-putting-on, texting, yelling-at-the-kids-in-the-back-seat, road-rage-inducing typical driver and putting it in the hands, so to speak, of computers. The only way these machines will fly is if they are capable of operating independently and without human interference.

The major roadblock will be the various well-entrenched bureaucracies such as the FAA and Transport Canada under whose authorities these vehicles would likely operate. Their starting positions will be that autonomous vehicles operating in shared airspace with regulated aircraft is a no-go from the outset. Which is not unreasonable as long as there’s a human behind the wheel/joy stick. But once the computers take charge of critical safety factors such as inter-vehicle clearances, etc., the doors will be well and truly opened for these types of vehicle to begin inhabiting the space above our heads.

Which will then lead to congestion, demands for runway space/landing zones, noise complaints….

Ah, progress.

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