‘Fly­ing cars are not cars in the sense that CAR will be go­ing on road trips in them or dri ing them round Oul­ton Park’

CAR (UK) - - First Drives - Mark Wal­ton THE IN­CUR­ABLE EN­THU­SI­AST

THE CAR as we know it is un­der at­tack. It’s like a scene from that movie, Dunkirk: dig­ging into the dunes on our left flank is the elec­tric car, pa­tiently wait­ing to strike. It’s like a sniper… silent… deadly… and bor­ing. On our right flank are bat­tal­ions of au­ton­o­mous cars, ready to surge for­ward and dis­arm us of our steer­ing wheels and our six-speed gear knobs. And now, with the pres­sure build­ing and the sound­track ramp­ing up the ten­sion, a new at­tack from the air: fly­ing cars! Bloody fly­ing cars! Now swoop­ing down like wasps. If I read one more news­pa­per ar­ti­cle about a ‘re­al­is­tic’ fly­ing car, I think I’m go­ing to strip down to my un­der­pants and wade out into the Chan­nel. (I don’t mean that lit­er­ally, I’m just con­tin­u­ing the Dunkirk metaphor... per­haps you haven’t seen the film… okay, let’s move on.)

Fly­ing cars have made mas­sive leaps for­ward in the last decade, helped by ad­vances in other spheres, such as mo­bile phones, elec­tric cars, drones and ride-shar­ing apps. Put all of th­ese to­gether and you get the Pop Up con­cept, de­vel­oped by Air­bus and Italde­sign. Its pas­sen­ger cap­sule can de­tach from its wheels and then drone-style ro­tors whisk it sky­ward. An­other, and this one’s ac­tu­ally at the fly­ing pro­to­type stage, is called the Lil­ium. It’s been built by a Mu­nich-based team, funded by the Chi­nese and one of the guys be­hind Skype. The sleek pod takes off ver­ti­cally and then tran­si­tions into wing-borne flight – a bit like a Har­rier Jump Jet, only pow­ered by AA bat­ter­ies. (Jok­ing! Be­fore Lil­ium sues me.) Then there’s Uber, which hired some NASA peo­ple to de­velop its own app-based ride-shar­ing ser­vice us­ing au­ton­o­mous, elec­tric, fly­ing drone-pods. How 21st Cen­tury is that sen­tence? ‘App-based ride-shar­ing ser­vice us­ing au­ton­o­mous, elec­tric, fly­ing drone-pods.’

There are oth­ers – the eHang con­cept from China, and Toy­ota has backed a Ja­panese team who are build­ing the SkyDrive, which they hope will be fly­ing in time to hover in and light the Olympic torch in Tokyo in 2020.

Yes, yes, yes – it’s all very ‘oooh, ex­cit­ing!’ and Blade Run­ner-es­que, but I have two ob­jec­tions. First, stop call­ing them fly­ing cars. They’re not cars, not in the sense that CAR will be go­ing on road trips in them, or drift­ing them round Oul­ton Park. Cars, as we’ve un­der­stood them for the last 100 years, are about free­dom, es­cape, road trips, about get­ting in and driv­ing off to the north of Scot­land or the Alps. Th­ese hov­er­ing pods take off ver­ti­cally, move two miles across town and then de­scend to drop you off and recharge – they’re like trav­el­ling in a lift that isn’t lim­ited to a sin­gle lift-shaft. De­spite the sen­sa­tional head­lines, this isn’t ac­tu­ally The Dawn of the Fly­ing Car! – it’s the dawn of Willy Wonka’s Great Glass El­e­va­tor. And my other ob­jec­tion is… okay, I hate fly­ing. I don’t know why, but I have this mor­bid fas­ci­na­tion with avi­a­tion dis­as­ters and ev­ery time I board a plane I can only think of all the things nd that might go wrong. Pi­tot tubes – I worry about pi­tot tubes. So the idea of strap­ping into a bat­tery-pow­ered drone that doesn’t have a pilot, at the mercy of the weather and the soft­ware… that ex­pe­ri­ence would be NOTH­ING LIKE DRIV­ING A CAR.

Plus, I’ve seen a few drone fails in my day – most pho­tog­ra­phers we work with at CAR use them nowa­days. Bat­tery fail­ures, heavy land­ings, col­li­sions – if ev­ery crash I’ve wit­nessed be­came a proper air dis­as­ter with peo­ple aboard, the whole ‘fly­ing car’ rev­o­lu­tion wouldn’t last a week. In Nor­way with pho­tog­ra­pher Richard Par­don to drive the Range Rover Ve­lar, his drone just went AWOL, off on its own up a ord, dis­ap­peared for about 15 min­utes while we scanned the skies like pi­geon fanciers. Imag­ine that, if you were sit­ting in it? ‘Com­puter, where are we go­ing? Why are you tak­ing me home via the North Sea?’

So don’t be­lieve the fly­ing-car hype – au­ton­o­mous cars are com­ing, yes, and in terms of cut­ting fa­tal­i­ties on the road they’ll be a ben­e­fit; but they’ll have to sur­vive a lot of bad pub­lic­ity to be­come es­tab­lished: the first crash, the first fa­tal­ity, the first pile-up. But au­ton­o­mous elec­tric drone taxis? Ev­ery time my iPhone glitches and I have to re­boot, I shake my head and think, ‘No, never, I’d rather walk.’

Ed­i­tor-at-large Mark would like it to be known that al­though ly­ing cars are a lu­di­crous idea that will never amount to any­thing, he’d re­ally, re­ally like a go in one

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