What exactly is a flying car?
My life is a bit unusual in that I often have conversations with people about the topic of flying cars. Since I was a child I dreamed about the day that we would have flying cars. But, other than the vague notion of the flying car that George Jetson drove each day to Spacely Sprockets, we have no real definition of the flying car, until now.
Recently, the angel-funded startup Terrafugia, headed by 2006 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize winner Carl Dietrich announced their plans to market a drivable airplane – a cool-looking plane with folding wings – as a flying car. And they’ve since endured a significant amount of criticism about their vehicle not being a “real” flying car.
But how can we make this call? Is their some definition about what it is that constitutes a flying car?
Currently, no. But I suggest we change that.
As a futurist, one prediction I can make with absolute certainty is that the first flying car will not look like the Jetson car.
With nearly 150 flying car projects currently underway, its about time we add some flesh to the bones of this concept. Let’s begin by describing some of the features that must be necessary to get the “flying car seal of approval.”
- Vertical takeoff and landing – A vehicle requiring a runway is not terribly useful, and therefore not a flying car.
- Fly-drive capabilities – The vehicle must be able to fly and drive equally well.
- Self-navigating – A flying car must be drivable by ”average” people. Since most people have difficulty driving on a two-dimensional road surface, the only way this industry will work is if the vehicle operates outside without the potential for human error.
- Car-like ease of entry – No “climbing in” or difficult forms of egress. The vehicle must reuire no more time to get in or out than a car.
- Car-like maneuverability – As a ground vehicle, the flying car must match the maneuverability of a car.
- Helicopter-like hovering capability – As an air vehicle, it must equal helicopter-like motion.
- Plane-like gliding ability – Over the long haul, it must be comfortable, smooth, and easy.
- Plane-like speed – Since speed will be its primary benefit, it has to be fast.
- Consumer-grade safety features – Since we won’t be dealing with highly skilled pilots, things will go wrong. Safety features must be idiot-proof.
- Silent engine – I don’t believe a flying car industry will make any serious inroads until someone invents a silent or near-silent engine. A metro area with 100,000 vehicles flying overhead, each sounding like a chainsaw, will have serious opposition.
This is the list of features that I think will help define the flying car, but I’m sure I’m missing a few. Let me know your thoughts on this topic.