Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
For the out-of-band Slashdot experience (mostly headlines), follow us on Twitter, or Facebook. ×

Where are the Flying Cars? (Video; Part One of Two) 107 107

Detroit recently hosted the North American Science Fiction Convention, drawing thousands of SF fans to see and hear a variety of talks on all sorts of topics. One of the biggest panels featured a discussion on perhaps the greatest technological disappointment of the past fifty years: Where are our d@%& flying cars? Panelists included author and database consultant Jonathan Stars, expert in Aeronautical Management and 20-year veteran of the Air Force Douglas Johnson, author and founder of the Artemis Project Ian Randal Strock, novelist Cindy A. Matthews, Fermilab physicist Bill Higgins, general manager of a nanotechnology company Dr. Charles Dezelah, and astrobiology expert Dr. Nicolle Zellner. This video and the one you'll see tomorrow show their lively discussion about the economic, social, and political barriers to development and adoption of affordable flying cars. (Alternate Video Link)

Speaker 1: Communities in space -- and everything else -- is not a one-year, six-month project... unfortunately right now a lot of things even in the government are well-funded, but it’s got to be here within six months to a year. Flying cars, communities in space, it’s going to take multiple years to fund which when we did the space program, which was good, because everybody was in the mood that it would take multiple years to do. But unfortunately it’s not in the current economic environment; that’s why we don’t have a space shuttle and that’s why very soon our astronauts who are up in the space station won’t be able to get back because the Russians are not going to take us there anymore. So that’s why we're trying to find something else that’s not government funded, some commercial operator. But it’s getting down to dollars and cents and what would happen in 6 to 12 months. And can we double things? I worked on a government project which was a dual engine program for the F-35 and they killed it because the government decided, well we don’t need to fund to have two engines for an airplane, we only need one and then after they cut GE’s funding to do it, all of a sudden Pratt & Whitney came to get the engines going through the airplane and are having all kinds of problem. So I think the biggest thing stopping all this is the economics and the money that nobody can get or create a space colony in six months to a year, it’s going to take multiple years.

Speaker 2: I have an answer to the question. I don’t think the barriers are scientific or technical at all because I can show you aircraft flown in the 1930s or the 1940s or 1950s, which were functional flying cars. They were cars that turned into airplanes. You could drive around, you could take them to the airport and fly them in the air and drive from the airport at the other end to your destination. And over and over again people have built aircraft this way and any one of them would be nice to own and they may have various design drawbacks and most importantly the designs are compromised between one kind of people and another. But there are those planes, right? Sometimes building the vehicle is not really the problem. The problem is that nobody who’s ever built a vehicle has sold more than you can count on the fingers of your hands, and so there is a barrier to be broken that’s not in the engineering realm exactly but in the, gee, how do we take this to market, how do we get enough financing to build a bunch of them in our factory, how do we find customers and so forth. And once there are some customers, once you sell a few of these things, then you run into the education barriers, like are there enough people, trained pilots who want one of thesem by the way also trained motorists because you need both, and I guess I’m speaking mostly of the kind of car that turns into an aircraft and vice versa. That’s one definition of flying car, another one is just some kind of vertical takeoff aircraft that you have in your driveway and it takes off and you can go anywhere in it and never bother about driving on the roads. That’s I think the type two kind of flying car.

Cindy A. Matthews: It’s not the technology, I think we have brilliant scientists out there and we’ve got technology and if we funded it, I think we can do anything we damn well want to in the realm of science fiction, but it’s a paradigm shift we need... oh, I can’t invest money into this project when I don’t see a turnaround within three to six months. It’s just too short of a time, to get to space, to make a space colony. It maybe decades or hundreds of years or more until you “saw a profit” at least in money. Why are we thinking about money? Didn’t Star Trek say, okay in the future we won’t have money? We’re not thinking about profit as far as building up mankind, improving life for the pompous. No, we’re thinking about dollars and cents and a very, very near term profitability for a few men or people who’re going to put the money upfront. So we need the psychological paradigm shift more than we need to push technology because the technology is there if we just let it happen.

Speaker 4: I think we’re all in agreement that the economics play a big role. I think there are some scientific challenges. I don’t think the science is trivial to make a commercial product that could be broadly marketed and meet the kind of guidelines that a broadly marketed product would have to reach, but I think the biggest thing is not just the economics in terms of profitable dollars and cents but also filling a certain economic need. There has to be a niche for it and is it really improving our traditional transportation in a way that makes sense for most people to say, yeah, I’ve got to own this. And for that to exist it has to be really doing something that is a market improvement in your lifestyle and if all it does is just get you there in the same way by just flying instead of on road is it improving things. And if it is, then the economics may eventually work out, but I’d say for now it’s not really very feasible.

Jonathan Stars: One thing I think about is that it’d be nice to be able to just go out and fly, but the problem is we’re going to have to have some kind of a system, registry or flight path and so on and so forth, same thing as you do right now with airplanes. Hang on, that’s a very long drawn out process and I can’t imagine doing that, the convenience of getting in my car and going, I can make up my mind in a minute and I wouldn’t be able to do that until we move into a place where the vehicles, our regular cars are driving themselves. We’re starting to try that, and we can try an awful long time. Also, then to be able to fly themselves and know what all the other flying vehicles are doing, that’s when it becomes a logistical thing where you can’t just use it as quickly and easily as you can a car. So I think it may be a little while before even that takes shape. I’m going to move on to the next question, did you want to add anything else to that?

Speaker 6: Yeah, I’m just wondering if we’re being little too scientific for a science fiction convention because the company that creates a few flying cars, yeah they exist, but they are not in every driveway. But perhaps you are looking at the flying car in Back to the Future, which according to the movie will be around next year, in 2015 we had the conversion done and it’s the skyways that are packed with traffic because the flying circuits are safe and that’s the flying car we’re all talking about. We’re not talking about the real flying car that we the engineer scientists know is a real pain in the ass to create. We’re talking about the science fictional one. We want that one. And that one, I’m sorry, science fiction authors are not here to predict the future. We are here to give you a really cool concept of what it might

Speaker 2: I think I’m dragging this down from science fiction back into technology, so maybe we should take flight again.

Cindy A. Matthews: I had one question but I had read that if we are having private flying cars and not just military like the Marines on them and then maybe under the auspices of the FAA, they wouldn’t be able to fly above a certain altitude, right, and then we don’t have to have a flight plan when you are under a certain altitude, correct?

Multiple Speakers: _____.

Cindy A. Matthews: Under 18,000 feet in certain locations, so you know I am going to say the social aspect, yeah, the laws, the rules, you have to plan it instead of just flying to the supermarket two miles down the road or I am trying to go visit my daughter over in England, which is a completely different type of private flight I’d be taking, and we’d have to go higher but, yeah, those are issues.

Speaker 4: Yeah, actually to be a voice of dissension, I will be devil’s advocate here for the sake of conversation is when the first automobile came about, how many roads were there and did people necessarily stick to roads or did people have any sense from a social or societal point of view of how it’s all supposed to work and be organized. It kind of self-organized and kind of similar self-organizational process take place once there is an affordable family sized flying car or put cart before the horse. Is that

Speaker 2: Before that time

Speaker 4: And I think we’re right on that, is that

Speaker 6: No, the change may happen, our society has evolved to the point that when cars first came into existence, nobody thought to create all the regulations we need until after we needed those regulations. But we’ve become a much more risk averse society where now we have to regulate everything that might actually come into existence in a couple of years. There were ongoing debates on human cloning when human cloning was not yet feasible because we had to regulate and decide how we are going to treat these things and that’s one of the reasons I think that socially we don’t have flying cars. There are too many people who are scared of them, scared of what they represent without anything regulated ahead of time.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Where are the Flying Cars? (Video; Part One of Two)

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @04:17PM (#47665695)

    Forget flying cars - this group can't even get a decent microphone.

    Couldn't someone have recorded this on a broken cellphone to improve the audio quality?

  • by Type44Q (1233630) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @04:32PM (#47665841)
    I'd prefer a toilet seat that cleans itself after I piss all over it. :p
  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @04:35PM (#47665863) Journal

    You clearly live in a flat place near an airport hub. Flying cars would be tremendously practical for most of the US, which are not near hubs. It's 40 miles to my parent's house, 100 if you drive. They happen to live two mountain ranges over and across a lake from me so the path to get there is rather circuitous. I'm 3-4 hours drive from 4 different large airports, but the only one within an hour has a horrible flight cancellation record, costs $100-200 more per trip than a hub, and to catch a flight that takes me to a hub I have to leave the house earlier than if I just drove straight to the hub.

    Sure, travel more than 200 miles or so is probably more economical on a commercial jet, and more than about 400-500 miles is probably the break point for convenience/cost combined. But outside the big cities, which comprise less than 2% of the land area of the US, there are lots of use cases for a flying car.

    Besides, a real flying car (not a roadable aircraft) should be able to reasonably navigate local traffic as well as airborne travel.

    It's arguable whether having five million flyers is a safe thing, but as for the utility - it's definitely there.

  • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Wednesday August 13, 2014 @04:59PM (#47666091) Homepage

    I think this is tied somewhat to the issue of the issue of self-driving cars. Part of the problem with flying cars is the question of, who do we trust to fly them? What's the process of licensing people to drive/pilot these things? Do we trust people not to fly over protected airspace? Do we trust people not to fly into buildings? Along with everything else, driving/piloting a vehicle designed both for driving and flying might very well be more complicated than learning to drive and learning to fly combined.

    However, if you can have self-driving cars, and you can make a self-flying driving car (including take-off and landing), then you could have the whole thing controlled by a computer guided system, adhering to restrictions to traffic and air traffic. Along with everything else, you could have restrictions that say, "When you're in NYC, the car knows that it needs to drive because airspace is restricted. Once you drive X miles outside the city, you can take to the air along certain restricted routes, following certain procedures." All of that could be controlled with computers, disallowing various kinds of abuses.

    Of course, that assumes that we have sufficient systems for safe autonomous driving/flight. It also assumes that everything is coded well enough to prevent people from hacking the car to allow them to break the rules. It also assumed that people will be ok with being restricted and tracked. Finally, it assumes that, when you've put all these restrictions in place, you haven't made the idea so un-fun that people don't want a flying car anymore.

The rule on staying alive as a forecaster is to give 'em a number or give 'em a date, but never give 'em both at once. -- Jane Bryant Quinn