Dude, Where’s My Flying Car?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been patiently waiting for the whole George Jetson lifestyle of the future thing to pan out. I’ve got a domestic mopping robot so why am I still sitting in traffic at the Bay Bridge toll plaza?

While I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m just an aspiring flying car expert, some of the latest concept designs, such as passenger drones, look like scaled up multi-rotors we might see at Best Buy. Certain offerings even work with cellphone apps so how far off could it be? No, seriously, I see some similarities, but I can also recognize the differences in “pay” loads for drones (burritos and such) and “live” loads of passengers. Yes, payload can also be a passenger/participant all depending upon the success of lobbied for definitions and some bulletproof liability insurance.

My opinion of the supposed dual-mode hybrid transportation vehicle design is that they are largely unimaginative. What we see portrayed as a flying car is just some new form of VTOL transportation that can fly through the air and then waddle down the road with all of the grace and flair of an intoxicated hippopotamus (Or maybe he has an earache).

If we as a species hope to be zipping around the skies in automated flying cars, we will need to get out of the cellphone app open source software mindset and reimagine or induce a true evolution of the automotive concept.

Merriam Webster defines automotive as “of, relating to, or concerned with self-propelled vehicles or machines.”

The Silicon Valley gears of disruption are starting to slip and grind on cellphone apps that skirt Federal and State regulation. The dual mode whip (tri-modal for the ambitious types) must consist of an amalgamation of technology and the design flexibility (including human factors) to use one mode of transportation to move us around our environs. Automotive automation is transforming two-dimensional transportation, but if we are going to move beyond the scourge of gridlock, we have to be able to transcend all three dimensions without driving through the traffic we are trying to avoid to an existing airport variant. There is already a certified solution for that scenario, and it is called a helicopter. Perhaps you’ve seen one on the TV?

Take off and landing Blade Runner style on the backbone of a cellphone app/network is going to be tricky even with your ‘can you hear me now’ 5G hokum. How are you going to avoid the throngs of people walking around the streets, trees, buildings, communication and power wires and other fixed structures, birds, selfie drones, aircraft and the other tens of thousands of cars flying point A to B?

You’re not, until you developed a robust Adaptive Autopilot Collision Avoidance (Detect and Avoid) system. That system is going to have to be on board, robust, full of AI and will need to be certified. Without it, true automotive (or drone) disruption is just a pipe dream.  

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Patrick Egan
Editor in Field, sUAS News Americas Desk | Patrick Egan is the editor of the Americas Desk at sUAS News and host and Executive Producer of the sUAS News Podcast Series, Drone TV and the Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition. Experience in the field includes assignments with the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Battle Lab investigating solutions on future warfare research projects. Instructor for LTA (Lighter Than Air) ISR systems deployment teams for an OSD, U.S. Special Operations Command, Special Surveillance Project. Built and operated commercial RPA prior to 2007 FAA policy clarification. On the airspace integration side, he serves as director of special programs for the RCAPA (Remote Control Aerial Photography Association).