“NO-FLY ZONE” RESPONSE
Derek Bezuidenhout’s antipathy towards the concept of flying cars assumes a world where the average motorist gets to go 3D. That would indeed be a frightening prospect, but I submit it’s an unlikely premise. Flying cars have faced huge obstacles: cost, skills required, and ensuring safety once Joe and Jane Public get airborne, where any little bumper-bashing is likely to lead to catastrophic consequences. These obstacles are all becoming surmountable.
Costs are coming down constantly as new lightweight materials and manufacturing technologies evolve, and when (and if) the other problems are overcome and volumes rise, costs will come down faster. What is really going to change the outlook though is automation and AI. In principle, flying cars can now be made as simple as flying a quadcopter: multi-axis accelerometers, precision GPS-, video- and infrared-based positioning (and possibly lidar), massive yet cheap computing, and the knowledge being gained in making toys (quadcopters) that any dunce can fly will de-skill the piloting of flying cars. It would still be exceedingly risky to take to the air though if there were thousands of other flying cars jostling with you on your daily commute but the answer to that conundrum is now in view: fully automated flying.
It would be lunatic to allow the general public to take to the skies without levels of training and discipline (and enforcement) akin to the requirements of a pilot’s licence, and that would effectively rule out nearly everyone; but what if all flying cars were self-flying? Just punch in your destination and sit back. The strides in the development of self-driving cars are clear to see, the business of safely manoeuvring on the roads is more complex than safely manoeuvring in the air. On the roads you have pedestrians, bicycles, opposing traffic passing within tens of centimetres, and crossing traffic. Worst of all, you have all those other vehicles doing unpredictable things. Managing airborne traffic, if all vehicles are fully automated and networked, observing their designated altitudes for direction of flight and monitoring all other traffic around them, is a much simpler proposition. The technologies are coming together and it will be fascinating to watch. I am certain the biggest hold-up will be developing new regulations and ironing out liability issues but it is now entirely credible that air-cars could be quicker and safer than road traffic, as long as you don’t let fickle, sleepy, aggressive, drunk, impatient people have the controls. And now we don’t need to. CHRIS CROZIER