Science fiction writers have been promising flying cars for centuries. Enterprising inventors even attempted a gliding horse-cart in the 1800s.
Today, there are roughly 80 different flying car patents on file with the U.S Patent office — some fly, and some have never made it off the ground.
Are flying cars the next logical step, or are they something that should be left in the realm of science fiction? First, let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of these marvels of aeronautical engineering.
Pro — No More Traffic Jams
The average urban commuter spends 34 hours a year stuck in traffic. Collectively, traffic jams waste more than 1.9 billion gallons of fuel annually. Flying cars could potentially eliminate traffic jams by elevating the morning commute.
Con — Need a Pilots License
Unless flying cars are fully autonomous, drivers will likely need a pilot license to drive a flying vehicle legally. This will limit the number of people that can take advantage of these tools.
Pro — No More Trips to the Gas Station
Most modern flying car designs will run on electricity rather than gasoline or diesel, saving drivers a trip to the gas station as long as they remember to plug their flying car in at the end of the night.
Con — Limited Parking Options
Unless the flying car is convertible — meaning that it can be flown and driven on the road — landing and parking locations will be limited. Some cities are considering adding VTOL (Vertical take-off and landing) pads to the tops of buildings, but the use of these will be limited.
Pro — Reducing Carbon Emissions
Electric engines mean fewer carbon emissions. This is a good thing across the board, whether the vehicle is flying or staying on the ground.
Con — More Dangerous than Driving
If the battery dies in a typical electric car, you roll slowly to the side of the road and stop. If the battery dies in a flying electric car, you fall out of the sky.
Are They Practical?
Are flying cars a practical alternative to traditional road-bound vehicles? They might become functional in the future, but as things stand right now, they aren’t shaping up to be a useful option.
That could change as technology advances, but at the moment we’re not going to be living in the world of “The Jetsons” or “Blade Runner” anytime soon.
Who’s Working On Flying Cars?
In spite of their current lack of practicality, nearly a dozen companies are working on turning flying cars from science fiction to reality. Ride-sharing company Uber has been working toward creating flying taxis since 2016 and is currently planning to test their VTOLs in Dallas, Los Angeles and Dubai by 2020.
Airbus is working on Project Vahana, an electric VTOL that will run entirely on autopilot. They’ve had 50 test flights since they launched and are planning on a full debut in 2020.
Kitty Hawk, named for the iconic North Carolina city where the Wright Brothers completed their first flight, has a flying car prototype that is “as easy to use as playing Minecraft,” according to the company’s CEO. They’re more of an ultralight than a car, but they’re fun as a personal flying machine.
These are just a few of the possibilities. Whether they’re currently practical or not, companies are still trying to turn them into reality.
Will Highways Be a Thing of the Past?
It’s impossible to tell when highways might become a thing of the past. With current levels of technology, the answer might be never, since flying cars currently aren’t as practical as science fiction makes them appear.
That said, though, technology is always changing and evolving. The companies like Uber and Kitty Hawk that are currently working toward the creation of flying cars may end up making it more practical than owning a road-bound vehicle.
We may never have cars like the ones we’ve seen in popular media, but it looks like autonomous flying taxis are becoming a definite possibility.
Hopefully, we won’t end up with flying traffic jams just as bad as the ones we have now on the ground, but if companies start with flying taxis and work their way up to privately owned passenger cars, they might end up becoming more practical than traditional cars.