10 Futurist Predictions in the World of Transportation


The Flying Car

Maybe we should be surprised that the jetpack has apparently beat the flying car. It seems like flying cars have been promised much longer. We have cars and we have airplanes, so making a mash-up shouldn't have taken this long.

So what is the benefit of a flying car, and how would it differ from, say, a helicopter? And why don't we see flocks of flying cars?

Foremost, the hybrid approach (land plus air) is more practical (in relative terms) than a single-purpose vehicle. But let's clarify that by saying, if you're stuck in a traffic jam, it would be more practical for you to press a button that allows your car to sprout wings and whisk your family off the ground, than it would be for you to own a helicopter or small plane. So, in other words, it's not very practical at all. (Still in doubt? Just think of how many people can barely drive safely down a straight road.)

But that hasn't stopped people from trying. There are about 80 patents on file for flying car technology in the United States and a handful of prototypes have actually achieved air.

The first experiment took place in 1917, and since then, there's usually been a project or two underway. Most inventors attached wings and propellers to a car and crossed their fingers; a few others tried to make small aircraft road-worthy (one of which could be converted in just about five minutes -- take that, Transformers!) but all suffered from similar problems. They're too heavy, too expensive, unlikely to ever meet safety standards and simply too hard to imagine ever actually working.

But of all the flying cars made, the Aerocar came closest to success. It could cruise above ground at 120 miles per hour (193.1 kilometers per hour). It also achieved FAA approval as a flight-worthy vehicle (one of only two flying cars to accomplish this feat). Ford was close to putting the Aerocar into production, but the oil crisis of the 1970s dashed those dreams.

It's hard to believe that it'll ever be cost-efficient compared to other transit options. A mass-market flying car will cost about $300,000 and will consume a lot of fuel. Tired of paying fuel surcharges when booking a plane ticket? It takes a lot more energy to achieve that height and stay aloft!

Still wistful? (You must really hate traffic jams.)