Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Flying cars ... a social step?

I was asked recently about the prospect of flying cars. This often happens to futurologists! And it's so often the case that people are interested in the technology angle. However the technology is not really the major factor in when we will have these. We are already capable of building cars that can drive themselves. For the masses to fly/drive, this is in my view pretty much a pre-requisite. The technology needs not only to keep the "car" in the air and navigate it to where it needs to end up, but also prevent the average driver from doing daft, undesirable or dangerous things. We have seen the same thing happen in traditional cars, where technology has been incrementally introduced to prevent such things as skidding, collisions, parking accidents etc. Once vehicles take to the air then there are further undesirable actions to guard against.

We already have a test that people undertake before being given a licence to drive on the public highway. There needs to be something equivalent for individuals who will be ultimately responsible for vehicles that leave the ground, however automated the vehicles might be. And as with driverless cars, the infrastructure doesn't really support the concept. Infrastructural development always takes more time and money than the technology that operates within it. An analogy here is the development of cellular network technology consistently failing to be deployed to keep up with the smartphone devices that could utilise them.

Yes, personal transport that can leave the ground will be developed, but it won't be soon so don't hold your breath ... and the delay is unlikely to be due to the technology needed. And in the current climate, it would need a very green propulsion system to gain traction in the marketplace. We are likely to see radical changes in the fuels used for cars before the latter take to the air. This is because of where we are today, not because of the technology required.

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