Flying Car? Not for us. Ever.

September 14, 2007 at 9:55 am 9 comments

It doesn’t matter where we look, old copies of Time, Popular Mechanics, daily newspapers or even our favorite science fiction magazines. All their many visions of the future included one particular element: the personal flying car. Where is it? More importantly… Why isn’t it?

Yes, we have air travel, even more than most people believe or can imagine. At any moment in time, there are more than 1,000,000 people in the air. That’s a migrant city in perpetual flight. Yet it’s not the flying car vision of the past. That vision was one of the personal flying car. An advance that would replace the all too familiar automobile. It was of the average citizen of the street, flying in ordered flowing streams to work and picking up the groceries. That hasn’t happened. Sadly(?), it will never happen.

That’s a strong statement, audacious, even pretentious, yet I believe it to be true. The ‘flying car’ vision is an example of a “poorly coupled” prediction. There’s no path from today that we can travel, to arrive at this envisioned tomorrow. Between today and the tomorrow of our dreams, lie insurmountable obstacles which are an integral part of who we are.

Most people would suggest the reason we don’t have flying cars has something to do with technology. They’re only half right. Technology only limits the possible; human nature limits what we attempt.

Drive the main highways of a major city at the height of rush hour. Note the irrational stop and go, the swerving, the rampant inattention to a life and death activity, the growing trend of road rage, the madness of growling steel leviathans, the honking of horns, and the unexpected rushes of adrenaline. Now imagine this maelstrom a thousand feet up in the sky – more specifically above your home… every hour – of every day.

“But!” the objections are shouted from the back row, “It doesn’t have to be that way! Technology has solutions! Guidance and control systems can solve all those problems. Anti-collision devices can make accidents impossible.” Etc. etc.

Let’s assume the technologists are right. Let’s pretend for the sake of argument that all of the above is true. Even with all these technological safe guards as a given, will we ever see flying cars replace the automobile? Not a chance – for several different reasons.

The first? No community would allow a flow stream over their backyard. NIMBY (not in my backyard) would quickly change to NIMAS… Not in my air space. Second? We’d have to place flow streams over a non-residential corridor… and it would be significantly wider than existing highways. ‘Cars’ flying a thousand feet up, need a lot more space for emergency landings than do Ford pickup trucks. Simple real estate economics makes mass consumer use of personal flying cars impossible.

There’s another mundane, yet insurmountable reason. How would we take that huge step from being land bound to being airborne? Regardless of assurances that flying your own car would be as safe as driving, how do we get to the point where enough people believe this to be true, for us to allow a single, never mind tens of thousands, of flying cars to swoop and swerve like swallows downtown during normal business hours?

And then we need to factor in the Age of Fear, where everyone is suspected of being a terrorist and the danger of bringing nail clippers onto a commercial flight is too great a risk.

This is the “poor coupling” of the flying car prediction. Between the reality of today and our vision of tomorrow, there is a chasm we have to cross. One we can’t traverse with little steps. Those steps are not technological ones, but ones of belief, trust and even a minimal level of acceptance.

In science fiction, we’re allowed one, even two, suspensions of disbelief. In real life, the first one you come across when analyzing a prediction… destroys its validity.

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Entry filed under: Change, Change Management, Future, Life, Problem Solving, Technology.

They’re not so different, the world is different Beating Murphy down

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. AnthonyNorth  |  September 14, 2007 at 10:42 am

    The flying car is a metaphor for extending our individuality and choice. It is a symbol of the philosophy of the time, not the credibility of technology.
    There actually IS a flying car. See the link below:

    http://www.moller.com

    It will never be put into mass production because big business requires big organisation, and that requires constructing roads, and the mass use of oil. The Moller would break big business up, and that would terrify them too much to produce it.

    Reply
  • 2. technobility  |  September 14, 2007 at 10:53 am

    That didn’t take long. I predicted, as I was writing this, that Moller would enter the conversation rather quickly.

    You might find this interesting reading:
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/08/31/moller_flying_saucer_idiocy/

    The flying car has become a metaphor because there’s no hope of it ever becoming a reality. Not because ‘big business’ will conspire to prevent it, but because the man in the street, the ones walking beneath the zooming maniacs, won’t want it.

    Pity. Flying cars are part of the future of my youth.

    Reply
  • 3. craigprice  |  September 15, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    Unless completely automated, the flying car will never reach mass market. People can’t drive in 2 dimensions now, adding another is just asking for trouble. Like the personal jetpack, it’s a great idea that allows our sense of adventure be pushed to the forefront. But in practical use, the lawsuits would pile up…along with the casualties.

    I’d still like one though…sounds cool. 🙂

    http://www.thepowerofnegativethinking.com

    Reply
  • 4. bluebeetleone  |  January 4, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    I don’t believe in flying cars expect seen on science fiction films or Harry Potter’s films.

    But automatic cars driving while you’re doing something else on motorways is a project some very serious companies are working on…

    Wishing you all the best!
    Happy New Year!

    Bluebeetle(one).

    http://redirect.alexa.com/redirect?http://bluebeetleone.blogspot.com/2007/12/le-premier-constructeur-automobile.html

    Reply
  • 5. information  |  May 28, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    information…

    Reply
  • 6. JAB  |  August 26, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    What type of power source would these cars run on? Gasoline? At $4 a gallon I’d be broke in a week .
    Why would anyone want the expense of owning a flying car anyway? Just think of the insurance premiums..?
    If it would require a computer pilot and GPS to navigate itself, could you even call it ‘driving’ anymore? Why not take a ‘flying bus’ instead since you’ve relegated control to something else?
    Of course it might be easier for that middle aged, overweight soccer mom to stuff a vanilla waffle cone into her mouth while commuting, but it seems to me a continuation of the idea that gave us sedentary lifestyles in the first place, as well as more debt, obesity, sprawl, pollution and countless other side effects that nobody thinks about while drooling over the prospect of buying a new car….millions of people zipping around in narcissistic little bubbles….anything to perpetuate that myth of ‘individuality.’

    Reply
  • 7. David Krosh  |  March 16, 2009 at 2:07 am

    I’ll put this politely, you are wrong.

    The common argument given against flying cars consists of the following:

    1.) Flying cars would be dangerous. Imagine a drunk driver not just hitting a tree, but a building.

    2.) Flying cars would require TREMENDOUS energy, from a source we obviously don’t yet produce.

    3.) Flying cars would be very expensive to produce, and the materials would add to this.

    4.) Flying cars are but a dream from yesteryear, when they said we would all be driving them by 2000.

    The 1st one is one of the best. Why on Earth would you allow someone like a drunken driver to own a car that he could easily turn into a mini 9/11 because he got drunk. See, this is flawed. Because the first logical step is automation of road ways, which many scientists believe will occur by 2030 or later. When you make it so free driving is no longer an option on a massive scale like it is today, you ELIMINATE accidents. That is assuming the automation system has crash detection, which by the way, is already on board some cars that you can buy RIGHT NOW.

    The second one is also flawed. This mindset is understandable, because it’s from today’s perspective. Right now, we don’t have the energy necessary or safe enough to power millions of flying cars. Even if we could find a way to use current energy sources, the price would be TREMENDOUS and not worth the effort. But this of course, is from TODAY’S perspective. You have to open your mind to the possibilities of tomorrow. I can imagine someone like you coming to such a conclusion, but you are not the first. They said we wouldn’t have a flying machine in the first place. They said the telephone wasn’t of any use to them. They said the TV was silly. They said many many things. But they were wrong, and I strongly believe, so are you.

    The 3rd is one very related to the 2nd, that flying cars would be expensive in two ways, one energy, and the other materials. How do you create a car that can fly without using plane like materials that cost an extreme amount of money. How? Well, again, newer, and lighter materials that cost less are being invented and used everyday. It is not silly to ASSUME that in the near to distant future, materials for a car of such magnitude would be possible and even likely. The first flying cars would be extremely expensive, and be likened to personal jets. Only a few people have the doe to own them. But that is changing, too. I believe it will take time. It may not even be within our lifetimes, but it will happen. Mark my words.

    The final argument is understandable. Anyone who lived in the 1950’s or before remember the AMAZING dreams and forecasts for the future. Your food would be prepared in automatic ovens. You would own a personal computing station that regulated calories. You would travel on moving walkways, and you would drive a flying car. You would watch flat panel TV, you would live on other worlds.

    While many things predicted then never happened, many have. In fact, I would go so far as to say NOT inventing a flying car would be completely lacking of human spirit and drive. We’ve met much greater challenges. A flying car is not even a speck on our progress. But like everything else, it will take time, the drive, and the knowledge for everyone to understand that flying cars don’t equal drunken drivers in buildings, they don’t equal crashing into each other, they don’t equal being hard to fly, and they don’t equal fantasy.

    You say one of the biggest challenges is overcoming what everyone “thinks” about the idea. But aren’t you giving that fire energy by declaring “Flying Cars for us? Not ever”. That mindset is what HINDERS our progress. You may laugh and say “Oh well, it takes more than just saying something to make it so” Well, you are certainly not helping the drive and possibilities by saying “it won’t ever happen”.

    It’s likely regardless of the backlash, it will once again prove you and ever other naysayer wrong.

    I don’t mean to sound rude, I don’t mean to come off as if I don’t like you, but you need to open your mind to the possibilities. Sometimes even the more fantastic dreams come true. Time will certainly tell.

    Reply
  • 8. technobility  |  March 16, 2009 at 7:24 am

    David,

    I do believe I addressed all of your points in the posting… My ‘objection’ (actually more of an observation) is not about anything to do with technology. I’ll grant you the fully automatic systems, I’ll grant you a price point that allows us all to do this, and I’ll even grant you a source of power that makes flying cars feasible.

    Although THAT last one would change far more than the potential to make flying cars a reality.

    What I won’t so easily grant is that we’d allow a stream of flying cars anywhere near our cities. Even with 9/11 this was always the sticking point – and with 9/11? It’s not going to happen in our lifetimes. If it does? I’ll buy the beer and pretzels.

    Reply
  • 9. LaSelaMelvins  |  January 21, 2014 at 11:08 am

    The only thing that’s actually stopping flying cars from being a reality is control. Humans are not made to drive cars to begin with; only a specialized few can pilot helicopters and planes, and even then computers are needed almost every step of the way.
    When automated vehicles become more ubiquitous, then we can re-examine the practicality of the flying car.

    Reply

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