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article imageOp-Ed: Flying cars have arrived — Now what do we do? Anything sane?

By Paul Wallis     Aug 28, 2020 in Technology
Tokyo - The flying car is a science fiction cliché and a technical problem. A new Japanese model has wings, is stable if you know how to drive it, and has a range of 5km due to battery issues. ...So now what happens?
The Skydrive design at least looks credible. It’s a two seater, a bit on the noisy side, and currently being carefully tested to see what it can and can’t do. The car comes with a Japanese government initiative involving government agencies and private enterprise to create a working system for flying traffic.
Of course, it’s not a simple process. The idea of pilotless flying cars, like driverless cars, requires bulletproof testing outcomes. Safety is critical, and these things will need sensors and safeguards like no vehicle before.
Before being extremely critical
To be fair about this idea:
• Flying cars could be excellent emergency vehicles.
• They can access some urban and other places far more quickly than roadbound traffic.
• They can reduce the carbon impacts of conventional vehicles. (They use batteries and perhaps later supercapacitors.)
• They could be a lot of fun, in a safe environment.
• They could reduce the demand for road infrastructure in pristine areas.
• As commuter vehicles, they’d be less toxic than the average car.
• If they’re quiet, they could seriously reduce noise pollution.
The trouble with traffic
Some people, notably me, are not very keen on flying cars as the unavoidable gridlock of the future, or possible DIY asteroid strikes if they crash. The conversation about the impact of flying cars as actual vehicles doesn’t seem to be discussing any obvious reservations.
Conventional traffic has merely clogged the roads. Road traffic is inefficient at best in so many ways. You’d have to change the entire way roads are used to make it work. You’d have to have a “one household, one car” rule to pull the extra vehicles off the roads and make them usable.
…So the idea of flying cars clogging the sky as well leaves more than a bit to be desired. In practice, these things aren’t really cars. They’re aerial transport, to be “managed” by owners. That’s not a recipe for unlimited confidence in high volume transit.
Currently, road deaths worldwide are about 1.35 million per year. That’s the death toll for relatively simple two-dimensional vehicles. Three dimensions add a lot of risk. Flying is a very different ballgame, and even experienced pilots have accidents.
Pilotless flying is a bit safer. UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) can fly for long times safely and in well-structured flight paths. The idea is workable, but not yet working.
Otherwise, driver competence is a major issue. Some people are perfectly capable of causing fatal accidents in their own driveways, never mind on the road. Flying cars will need very high driver competence indeed.
What about…?
Flying cars would have other impacts, too. For example - There you are in your high-rise, and there’s a stream of traffic going past the window. Your home is also an instant obstacle if one of these things goes off track.
Forget The Jetsons, you’ve got a highway outside the window. Forget the view, too; you’ll get a stream of traffic day and night whether you like it or not. (If you’ve ever wondered what so great about “this city never sleeps”, the short answer is that there’s nothing great about it. It’s a permanent racket, not some sort of vague cultural achievement.)
Privacy, that great constantly endangered species, is also an issue. Do you really want people flying over your home? Or are you assuming that only saints will use flying cars? Who’s driving 10- 20 metres above your home?
Er, um…Sanity?
The other driving force here is that there’s no critical need for flying cars. Culture, that hideously defined word, is driving the theory of a consumer market. It’s not much of a culture. The definition is a mix of behaviours, and of course the dino-customs, etc.
Adorable as middle-aged four year olds going “Vroom, Vroom, Vroom” for decades may be, the driving idea is trying to make a plane out of a car. That won’t work.
The practical uses of these flying cars are limited. Chewing up air space to create a market for flying cars would be as destructive as the global road networks. Deforming and repurposing land use for traffic in the air would be as bad or worse unless some sanity kicks in.
Currently the world puts in more time, money and dedicated land space into transport than practically anything else. United States roads use up 4 million miles. Now translate that into air space usage. See where this might go?
Again, to be fair, it’s quite likely a more civilized, more tolerable pattern of air space usage would evolve. Nobody wants a freeway over their heads. Flying cars could be routed over existing roads and train lines, for example, keeping demand for new space usage to a minimum.
The problem is that any new technology has a long run-in time. Complex technologies involving people take longer. The flying car may have to wait for a society which knows how to use it properly.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
More about Skydrive flying car, Tomohiro Fukuzawa, flying traffic, pilotless flying cars, flying car traffic issues
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