For­get cars, we'll be tak­ing to the skies in the fu­ture says Bi­joy!


FFOR CLOSE TO A DECADE AND HALF I had to en­dure an ab­so­lutely sad com­mute from the Mum­bai sub­urbs to cen­tral Mum­bai. It used to take at least an hour and on a bad day, three hours. Ma­ha­lak­shmi, now the edi­tor of Out­look Busi­ness, who used to be my com­mut­ing part­ner for most of those years would vent off steam oc­ca­sion­ally at the traf­fic. "Why can’t we have a car that can just lift off and drop us where we want it to?", was her favourite ex­as­per­ated state­ment. The con­ver­sa­tions wouldn’t last as I would tell her de­fy­ing grav­ity has been the holy grail of trans­porta­tion. Then we would go on to ap­pre­ci­ate the in­ven­tion called the air­plane, and agree that it has been the most won­der­ful thing man has ever in­vented.

Come to think of it. We have mas­tered the art of flight for over 100 years and yet we can­not have fly­ing per­sonal mo­bil­ity. We can have a mam­moth alu­minium tube called the Air­bus A380 haul 500 odd pas­sen­gers and tonnes of cargo from Sin­ga­pore to Lon­don but we do not have the tech­nol­ogy to carry me, at just a shade above 100kg, for 30 min­utes or 30km? Isn’t that ab­surd? Some­thing went wrong some­where, right? Per­haps the an­swer lies in the fact that Ja­pan has not been able to make air­planes af­ter the Sec­ond World War. Just per­haps.

Ah yes, we can al­ways blame the crude oil econ­omy con­jur­ing with the car in­dus­try be­he­moth to en­sure that elec­tric mo­bil­ity does not take off – quite lit­er­ally. Wait a minute? If you are won­der­ing what the con­nect is be­tween my dread­ful com­mute, elec­tric power

‘All car mak­ers are get­ting it wrong as they plan more IC en­gines and hy­brid, elec­tric


and per­sonal fly­ing mo­bil­ity…read on.

Welcome to the world of drones, I say. You have seen them hov­er­ing at wed­ding halls and be­ing used for news re­portage. We also know that some com­pa­nies are us­ing drones to de­liver pizza and books. There are drones that carry cut­ting edge cin­e­matog­ra­phy equip­ment that weighs over 10kg and take off and land safely. So it is nat­u­ral for me to ex­pect in an­other five years time I can ex­pect my own drone to com­mute to work?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to go at 35,000ft above sea level over the po­lar route to JFK. Heck, I will be happy hov­er­ing ten feet above ground and guided by a GPS net­work and sen­sors that pre­vent me from crash­ing into Mr Mehta who is hov­er­ing home in a hurry.

Isn’t that the in­ven­tion all of us have been wait­ing for? Al­low me to run my imag­i­na­tion wild for a sec­ond. Imag­ine this magazine be­ing called evo Drones In­dia? Con­vert­ible drones called Dron­sters? How about For­mula Drone (right out of Star Wars, ain’t it?)? While I am day-dream­ing some­one called Hu is work­ing very hard in China and they have gone ahead and built a pro­to­type that can hover. Check out the pic­ture. I am dead se­ri­ous here. The Ehang 184 show­cased re­cently at a tech show can carry 120kg (I qual­ify, sigh!) and can do 100kmph with a flight time of 23 min­utes. And it will never fail, since it will take over in case of prob­lems. Ac­cord­ing to Google re­search, the Ehang 184 will set you back by `1.3 crore (that will need a lot more con­vinc­ing at home than an­other mo­tor­cy­cle!). But the point is it can be done and some­one is at­tempt­ing it.

This is the point where I think Elon Musk got it all wrong. In­stead of spend­ing money, en­ergy and tal­ent on drones, he went af­ter mak­ing a car… as if it was the 1900s all over again! Come to think of it, all car mak­ers are get­ting it wrong as they plan more and more IC en­gines and even hy­brid, elec­tric au­to­mo­biles. The fu­ture is per­sonal fly­ing mo­bil­ity. The fu­ture is drones.

Sure there will be chal­lenges but then with the ad­vent of the au­to­mo­bile the world changed, right? New laws were forced to be writ­ten and ex­e­cuted. New in­fra­struc­ture needed to be built. Such was the power of in­ven­tion that the rest fol­lowed. Ditto drones, I say.

Sure bat­tery tech­nol­ogy is the Achilles heel and once this mi­nor is­sue is sorted out we can fly to work. As sim­ple as that.

I get this strange feel­ing that I will live to see that day!

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