For those who grew up watching The Jetsons, a childhood staple from yester-year that more than a few of us will remember fondly, flying cars were a sci-fi dream that we hoped we’d live long enough to see, but never actually believed we would. Well, as the recent emergence of a number of companies with the capabilities and technology to design and build them clearly shows, flying cars are no longer science-fiction geekery – they are here, they are real, and within the coming decades they will likely become an astonishingly unremarkable part of our everyday lives. One thing is certain: their emergence will lead to a world that is unrecognisable from today’s.You’d be forgiven for thinking this to be a slightly outlandish claim at first glance, but consider this: Dubai announced only as recently as April this year its plans to deploy a fleet of flying cars, likely the Airbus-designed Vahana, a VTOL autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) that will operate as an automated air taxi of sorts. Another model of AAV, the Chinese Ehang 184, will serve a similar role and function, allowing for take-off and landing from pre-set points around the city where they are based. Then there’s the Dutch company PAL-V International, which has developed the PAL-V Liberty – a two-seater hybrid marvel which can hit up to 100mph on the road or 112mph in the air at altitudes up to 4,000ft. Unlike the formerly mentioned models, the PAL-V Liberty is designed to be driven and flown manually. Excitingly, these are but a handful of examples – there are many more companies large and small around the world, including Google and Uber, who are also aiming to enter into the market early.
The emergence of these vehicles heralds the beginning of a transport revolution that promises to completely change the world around us, much like the motor car did during the late 19th to early 20th century. However, what with this novel method of transport still being in its infancy, a great many questions and challenges exist that must yet be answered. Surprisingly, their cost isn’t much of a concern – it is thought that power consumption will be no more than that of an electric car, and the cost will be similar to that of a high-end sports car – but convincing a sceptical public that they are safe to use may take time. Then there is the task of devising rules of the road and an aerial highway code, so to speak, for the bustling, gridlocked skies of the future. To prevent catastrophic airborne collisions with other vehicles and buildings, this is essential, and it will be a time-consuming and arduous task, bearing in mind that the world is still only coming to terms with the use of simple drones.
In a world where the wildest sci-fi dreams of decades ago are becoming positively pedestrian, many of us might feel a little disappointed that news of this coming transport revolution hasn’t made us as giddy as we once thought it would. Technology-inspired revolutions are more commonplace now than they once were, and we are currently on the cusp of a number of them, be it as a result of AI, the utilisation of stem cells or the fourth agricultural revolution – quite frankly, there is a lot to be amazed by nowadays.
All the same, perhaps we should let our inner child rejoice a moment at the possibilities of a world, and more to the point, sky packed with Jetson-esque flying contraptions. Call me juvenile if you will, but lightsabres next, anybody?