Flying cars? Just give it 20 years
Transportation technology is progressing at a much slower pace than some of the other sciences such as information technology, biotech, and nanotechnology. As an example, the world’s human speed record was set in 1969, a full 37 years ago, when Thomas Stafford, John Young, and Gene Cernan flew in Apollo 10 at 24,790 mph. While there is much talk about flying at a speed that approaches the speed of light, very little effort is actually being expended in this area.
However, transportation technology is about to move ahead more rapidly in the coming years with the advent of two radically new technologies – frictionless vehicles and binary power.
Throughout history we have learned that the two principle driving forces of humanity are freedom and control. While current automotive technology gives us the freedom to drive as fast or slow as our vehicle will take us, and control over our timing and direction, we are still restricted to driving on the ground and we have a hornet’s nest of laws to contend with regarding speed, flow, and operation.
Understanding the “freedom and control” drivers is key to understanding the future of transportation. Any new forms of transportation that do not measurably improve our sense of freedom or give us added control of our lives will likely fail in the marketplace.
In the near future, automotive companies will focus on fully automated vehicles where people can “punch in” or “speak” the place they want to go to and the vehicle will automatically take them there. This “control feature” will open up huge additional markets for automotive companies to sell to the elderly, families with kids too young to drive, and the visually, physically, and mentally impaired. The arrival of fully automated navigation systems for ground-based vehicles will set the stage for fully automated navigation systems for flying vehicles.
Here are a few other transportation landmarks that will help pave the way for the more significant innovations.
• By 2015 traditional gas-powered autos will start to decline with electric automobiles and hybrids taking up most of the slack.
• By 2020 we will see an industry being built up around self-illuminating highways – highways that glow in the dark. “Glow Roads” will dramatically change the night-time aesthetics of major cities and will be shown to improve driving safety at night and reduce the need for streetlights.
• By 2025 a first attempt at launching the space elevator will fail, setting the industry back a decade.
Around 2030 we will see commercialization of the first friction-free no-moving-parts flying vehicles which will be considered by many to be the ultimate freedom machine. Much like the transition from analog to digital in the world of information technology, the study of traditional mechanics and traditional aerodynamics will be replaced with a new physics governing vehicular movement.
Even today, flying cars are very much on the radar screen to become a next generation automotive technology. They will begin with a more convenient version of today’s airplanes and eventually converting over to the frictionless cars.
The Flying Car Era
The flying car era will really begin around 2015 with flying drones. Flying drones will be used by FedEx and UPS to deliver packages, Pizza Hut to deliver pizzas, and Kroger and Safeway to deliver groceries. But beyond that, drones will enable homes to be taken off the grid with delivery of water and electricity (changing out batteries for the home), trash and sewage pickup, and much more. These too will begin as air-powered vehicles and later convert to frictionless drones.
Six key technological breakthroughs will be needed for the first generation of flying cars to become viable – the fully automated navigation systems, directional layering of airspace, low-impact vertical take-off, convenient fly-drive capability, silent engines, and specialized safety systems.
1. Fully automated navigation systems – The average person has a difficult time navigating on a two dimensional surface. The flying car industry will not be able to “get off the ground” without an onboard navigator that “handles the driving”. Yes, people will want the freedom of being able to do some creative maneuvering in certain situations, but that will only be allowed in rare instances.
2. Directional layering of airspace – With several hundred thousand vehicles flying over a city, there will need to be an organized system for managing the traffic, and having all vehicles at a particular altitude traveling the same direction would eliminate many problems. For example, all vehicles traveling at 1,000 ft altitude would be traveling due north, at 1,010 ft altitude 1 degree east of due north, 1,020 ft altitude 2 degrees east of due north, etc. Vehicles would spiral up or down to make their turns. While not a perfect solution because the North Pole becomes a crash point for those flying due north, it does represent a good starting point for engineering a solution.
3. Low-impact vertical take-off – For use by the average person, flying cars cannot have a runway requirement. They need to take off and land vertically without blowing the leaves off of trees or shutters off your house.
4. Convenient fly-drive capability – As humanity makes the transition from ground-based autos to flying cars there will be a need for both driving on the ground and flying in the air.
5. Silent engines – Very few cities will want to put up with the noise of several hundred thousand flying vehicles if they all sound like airplanes today.
6. Specialized safety systems – To date both aircraft and airspace have been closely controlled by organizations like the FAA and the NTSB to insure the safety of the flying public. Because of the sheer volume of vehicles and the lower caliber of individuals allowed to fly, additional safety measures will have to be in place. Safety technologies will include collision avoidance systems and drop-out-of-the-sky emergency airbags on the outside of vehicles.
The friction-free no-moving-parts vehicles will run on what we call “binary power”. Binary power is the concept where two otherwise harmless beams of energy will intersect at some point in space creating a source of power.
To better explain binary power, think in terms of two invisible beams intersecting in a room and the point at which they intersect is a glowing point of light. Yes, binary power will eventually replace all light bulbs. And lest you think it can only be used for intense forms of power, it will also be used to create “points” of sound, eliminating the need for speakers and headphones.