Flying cars are like house cats: they can be trained, they’re more adorable than evil and they don’t generally cause a lot of trouble. But that’s only because there aren’t a lot of them around these days. If anything, flying cars have been called the “holy grail” of transportation options for decades. Given that flying cars are largely an idea that people talk about but never actually invent (I mean, as far as we know), why do we fantasize about it so much? Flying cars offer a whole host of benefits to the average consumer. But before you start putting up landing lights in your driveway, it’s important to learn about their disadvantages as well. You’ll want to think this whole thing through before you invest your life savings in a prototype of the latest theoretical machine from NASA or the Pentagon.
Cars that fly are closer than you think.
According to a new report from the FAA, as many as 600,000 drones were sold over the holidays. And while they may not be quite as agile or smart as the flying cars in Back to the Future Part II, they show just how close we are to having personal air travel.
Thanks to innovations like drone technology and advances in materials science, flying cars are no longer a distant dream. From UberAir to Terrafugia, startups and established manufacturers alike are racing to bring these vehicles to market. Here’s what you need to know about how these vehicles will work:
Safety first. The biggest challenge facing flying cars isn’t mechanical — it’s human error. According to an MIT study, pilot error has caused 87 percent of all aviation accidents over the last 30 years. As a result, flying cars will likely be autonomous, rather than piloted by humans. Plus, they’ll have some sort of failsafe mechanism like parachutes or airbags to help cushion any crashes or landings gone wrong.
The sky is the limit — literally. Right now, regulations cap planes at 60,000 feet (18 km). But as new technology makes flying safer and more efficient, regulators might lift this cap.
What are the advantages of flying cars?
Flying cars are a sci-fi staple, but science fiction is becoming reality. At least half a dozen companies around the world are working on prototypes for flying cars, with several saying they’ll be available to consumers within the next few years.
The term “flying car” can mean a variety of things, but it usually refers to a hybrid vehicle that can travel both on roads and in the air. They’re not just fanciful pipe dreams from science fiction writers, either — they could provide some real benefits over ordinary cars.
The main advantage of flying cars is that they offer much greater mobility than the automobiles we drive today — including the ability to avoid traffic snarls by taking off into the sky. That’s especially important as cities become more crowded, and as many people move away from rural areas and into large metropolitan areas in search of jobs and economic opportunity.
One example of this is Terrafugia’s TF-X prototype, which envisions a vehicle that can take off vertically like a helicopter and then fly like an airplane. The TF-X also has its own automated control system so passengers don’t need any type of pilot training if they want to fly it themselves.
How will we control all those flying vehicles?
The idea of a flying car is exciting, but there are unforeseen consequences. The skies will be filled with many more cars than the roads below. How will we control all those flying vehicles?
While many people would want to fly their own cars, most will not want the responsibility and will prefer to let a computer do the driving. But, who is responsible for accidents if it’s not you? Will we see class-action lawsuits against self-driving cars?
Are there any disadvantages to flying cars?
Flying cars are not without their flaws. One of the greatest disadvantages would be their cost. Even if they were widely available, many people would still have to drive around in your everyday car. The cars themselves would also have to be large enough to fit the rotors needed to make them fly. This would take away from their practicality as a family car, and probably make them less environmentally friendly.
Another disadvantage is that flying cars would need some sort of guidance system to ensure that they don’t collide with each other or crash into buildings while they’re flying. This would likely require a lot of infrastructure work in urban towns and cities, as well as a whole new regulatory framework for the flying cars themselves.
How do we build roads that can take off and land?
Since the dawn of aviation, we’ve been promised that flying cars are just around the corner. But how close are we really to this sci-fi future?
The answer is complicated. In many ways, flying cars already exist. There are airplanes and helicopters that can fly slowly enough and take off and land in a short enough distance that they could be considered “flying cars.”
The real challenges involve design, regulation, cost, infrastructure and even comfort. Driving on a highway is one thing; driving in a parking garage or down a busy street is another entirely.
Still, many people believe that the idea of flying cars is more science fiction than viable reality. They cite safety issues, since such cars are expected to fly low to the ground, and they argue that the new cars could create a visual nuisance and possibly cause accidents with pedestrian automobiles. Many also point out that, even if we wanted these vehicles, flying or driving them can be problematic. Since current laws rule that flying cars will have to travel during hours of light traffic in designated areas (just as regular aircraft do) flying cars may not prove very practical for everyday use over long distances.