There was a time when everyone thought the future of motoring was flying cars. Whether it was watching the futuristic Jetson family zipping back and forth through the skies, marvelling at the Delorean as it takes flight in Back to the Future Part 2, or grimacing at the grim dystopia of Blade Runner, but also thinking how cool the flying vehicles were. As the famous quote goes: “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
But today’s cars are still all too grounded. Where was the bright future we were promised? Well the good news is, there are some flying cars on the way. The bad news? Everything else! Here’s a look at why the future of motoring may or may not be soaring through the sky.
You may not realise it, but there are actually some flying cars in existence. A Slovakian company has been developing their flying car – the AeroMobil – over the past decade, and have even built several prototypes. What makes it most exciting? It actually works!
While it may not be as quick a transition as you might expect, you are able to go from driving on the road to soaring through the skies.
So if you check the travel news and decide there’s a bit too much congestion on the road ahead, well you can pull over and switch to flight mode. The good news is, this car will be available to buy from 2020. The bad news? It will set you back a cool €1.5 million euros!
While it may be pricey now, it could be an important first step in proving that flying cars are a viable solution to our ever-crowded roads.
But what are the challenges that need to be overcome?
It’s safe to say that some drivers struggle enough with driving on a normal road. And while there is a lot more room to manoeuvre if you are soaring through the sky, there are also a lot more challenges too.
Have you ever been driving along an open road, only to feel a sudden strong crosswind hit your car and almost send you off course? That happens a lot more often in the sky. There’s a reason it takes months and months of lessons and exams to become a qualified pilot.
It’s not just about being able to use the controls, it’s about learning the conditions, plotting a course, reading charts. While technology may make this easier going forward, the high bar when it comes to becoming qualified could prevent many from taking to the sky.
One of the biggest barriers to flying cars is obviously the safety factor. When it comes to accidents, air travel is one of the safest modes of transport. But that’s because the number of planes in the sky is a tiny fraction of the number of cars on the road. If you start having more people flying, then the chances of an incident occurring increases dramatically.
But it’s also the severity of the issue. If you have an issue on the road with your car, you can just pull over or crawl to a stop somewhere safe. If there’s an issue with your flying car, well it’s not that simple. Crash landings are not recommended!
Commercial planes are strictly regulated, with regular checks by safety inspectors to ensure that everything is up to standard. The same would not be possible if flying cars were available to everyone.
After all, not everyone checks their oil and water on a regular basis. And while you might hope that, because you are flying, you might take extra care on engine maintenance, there are lazy people everywhere!
And it’s not just those in the sky who are in danger. Flying cars falling from the sky could lead to many deaths on the ground.
While there might be no-fly zones and areas where flight is restricted, the recent trouble caused by drones at Gatwick Airport shows you how even the slightest bit of interference can bring the skies to a standstill.
The biggest barrier to flying cars though is the price. A flying car is a drastically different beast to a normal car.
There are a lot more considerations to take onboard than just four wheels and an engine. Add in the amount of training you would need to fly, the advanced technology that would have to be put in place, and the increased amount of storage space, and the cost of a flying car is already going up.
Lightweight materials might bring the cost down in the future, with carbon fibre a genuine possibility.
Planes aren’t designed to crash, so if you spent more time in the air, you wouldn’t have to worry so much about a robust chassis and crumple zones. And with self-driving cars well on their way, safety will be much easier on the road.
But the biggest price point will be the cost of fuel. There aren’t any hybrid or electric engines widely available yet for airplanes.
And flying takes up a lot more fuel than a quick drive to the shops. It’s not exactly economical. Perhaps some sort of advanced electric motor or alternative fuel might make it more practical. After all, the Delorean flies using trash and nuclear power, but maybe that isn’t quite suitable for the mass market.
There’s a reason flying cars have appeared throughout science fiction. The idea of ultimate freedom, being able to go from A to B without worrying about traffic does seem like a dream.
But the key part is the ‘fiction’. Driving on the roads is dangerous enough, without having to worry about someone texting and flying.
Until the technology has been perfected, and there is a cheap way to power the vehicles, flying cars will just be another toy for the super-wealthy - just like helicopters, and private jets. Wait, why do they even need a flying car?
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