If there has been one upside to the Covid-19 lockdown it has been that when you do actually go somewhere there is no traffic. No gridlock. Point A to point B is quick and efficient. While the lack of normalcy has been riddled with anxiety, personally I have had two extra hours a day to allocate however I choose. Not driving from my home to the office has positively impacted my productivity and lowered my stress in relation to that activity. I miss my co-workers, the city itself and the office. I do not miss the daily grind of getting there and getting home.
If you wanted to design the worst possible transportation system, you would use the surface of the earth with pathways that loop around objects that are in the way. Use material that breaks down when exposed to the sun, rain and air as the platform on which to travel and give the person controlling the journey limited vision along the way. Utilize a device that performs based on the focus and motor skills of the individual user — a device that when it fails gets in the way of all of the other moving devices. These devices of course should spew much pollution and take up a large share of average household budgets despite their sitting idle 95% of the time. While they sit idle, they should occupy valuable real estate. This is what we have today.
Of course, cars and trains were once technological marvels and have changed the world for the better many times over. The interstate highway system in the United States is incredibly impressive given what was there before it. However, cars and trains do not scale. While autonomous vehicles and ride sharing services move the needle, they don’t solve the problem. Aside from the ~40,000 people that die each year in US automobile accidents, the average US driver spent 97 hours (2.5 weeks) stuck in traffic in 2018. The alternative — public transportation — is just awful all around. Incremental improvement within the old model is the wrong approach. The time has come to move to a new mode of transportation and the technology already exists. We have to get off the surface of the earth.
This is no longer a question of can we invent the technology to do so — this is a question of will. Flying cars already exist. They’re just not street legal. Personal flying devices can operate with Vertical Take Off & Landing (VTOL) — no runway required. They run on battery not gas, make very little noise and are GPS enabled autonomous devices. You don’t fly them the way a pilot flies a plane — you type in a destination and it takes you there. They are essentially drones that deliver people.
You could fly from your home to your office by yourself. Door to door service. The operating cost of these devices will ultimately be lower than the cost of a car or train. Urban aviation under the ridesharing model is starting to take form. If you get off the surface of the earth and fly at low altitude — there is nothing in the way — it’s truly point A to point B. Thus, efficiency at that point is tied only to speed.
Through 2019 over $2 billion had been invested in flying car startups and the capital chasing this market is accelerating substantially. There are now over 25 companies dedicated to this market and a dozen vehicles are being test flown regularly. More startups are being formed in this space every month. Some of the companies making flying cars include:
• Delorean Aerospace, LLC
• Detroit Flying Cars
• Kitty Hawk
• Lazzarini Design Studio
• Macro Industries, Inc.
• Moller International
• Neva Aerospace Ltd
• Nirvana Systems Ltd
• Tesla, Inc.
• The Boeing Company
• Toyota Motor Corporation
The impact of a modernization to transportation would be massive. It could free up real estate, improve the air quality of big cities, give people a large percentage of their commute time back, dramatically change the way public transportation is utilized — perhaps even done away with. It will also be much safer because humans will not be flying the flying cars.
The challenge in this space is no longer technology, it’s regulation. Air traffic systems have to be built and agreed upon and landing logistics in high traffic areas must be worked out. Oil company and auto industry lobbyists will have to find something else to bribe politicians over. Not easy stuff but a good problem to have and much easier than say inventing cars that fly. The question is what is this country’s will to get something like this done?
Technology has been hunting down and improving things that suck for a long time now. Have you waited in line at a bank to cash your paycheck lately? Nothing sucks more than the modern commute. Working from home and not being around people is not the solution. When we go back to normal — and we will — we need to solve the commute. Flying cars were promised to us a long time ago — they are finally here — let’s make use of them.