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What Living with Flying Cars Will Be Like

Futurist Thomas Frey
Futurist Thomas Frey weighs in on how the public will initially think about flying cars.

We get so immersed in the mechanics and infrastructure surrounding the development of eVTOLs that we sometimes forget about what a world with flying cars will be like or what it will take to have the population at large accept these soon-to-be modern miracles.

We know that eVTOLs are in our future – sooner than most people think – but what will they think before they order an air taxi?

Where is Uber likely to provide first-generation air-taxi services, even within the cities they’ve already targeted?

Dr. Thomas Frey, a futurist with the Association of Professional Futurists and founder of the DaVinci Institute helps sort out the answers.

Part science, part human nature, futurists study the past and the present to help predict the future as accurately as possible.

Step One: Trust Us

Before the public uses the commercial eVTOLs we expect will arrive sometime in the next few years, “a level of trust will have to be developed,” Frey says. “Just what that critical mass needed to develop that trust is, is yet to be determined.”

Frey explains that we’ve been talking about flying cars for decades. We’ve all seen the Jetsons, but it’s not realistic to expect that people will get behind the controls of a car that flies from Day One.

Also, people assume they will be affordable to everyone, he says. But, AeroCar Journal’s research shows the first eVTOLs are more likely to be in the $300,000 to $500,000 range. Not exactly the airborne equivalent of Ford’s Model T.

Operators and infrastructure investors talk about rooftop vertiports. But, Frey says, that might not be what consumers consider convenient. They might need to be more along the lines of a ground level, grocery store-sized parking lot.

Whose (Air) Space Is It?

In terms of which routes to adopt first, eVTOL operators are going to go for the low-hanging fruit. Which city pairs, such as Houston-Dallas Ft. Worth, will yield a profitable market? Where are the executives with company credit cards who can justify a $150 expense by time saved?

The evolving industry is already sensitive to visual and aural noise, but how will the air routes actually play out, not just in city centers but in suburbs where low-altitude flight is less acceptable?

Yes, UAS drones can deliver 50,000 packages a day but soon, homeowners (and their lawyers) may want to assert the rights to the airspace above them.

Does that extend to 10,000 feet? 100,000 feet?

From Farm to Drone to Table

The opportunities to improve healthcare delivery and overall safety using manned or unmanned air mobility vehicles will also be enhanced when eVTOLs come into their own.

UAM ambulances can reduce the time to provide urgent care to someone stranded on a mountainside. Drone-mounted defibrillators might provide life-saving care to someone having a heart attack on a golf course.

Using cameras or sound technologies, eVTOLs could quickly spot forest fires.

Hyper-individualized technologies might lead to sensors that provide you with a restaurant menu tailored to your dietary needs that then coordinates with farmers who can use UAS to grow niche crops in 1-acre plots versus 100-acre parcels.

A drone might deliver your favorite chow mein or corned beef on rye from a restaurant 50 miles from your home. That sort of trust in UAM is much more easily achieved than human transportation.

Drop Zone

There are still missing pieces of the UAM infrastructure and operations to be developed, Frey surmises. If a drone will deliver a package of goods you ordered to your house, where will it place the package? On your front steps, on the driveway?

What if it’s a delivery to your office or apartment complex, then where will it go? Is there one set of instructions if it’s raining and another if it’s 100 degrees out?

Can a porch pirate swipe your package before you do? The current question about deliveries often asks about the last mile. In the future, it might be more about the last 100 feet.

At Your (Public) Service

Government agencies will be able to make use of UAM – manned and unmanned – too.

With a digital model of your city, public agencies can incorporate sensors into the design of buildings and scan for things like tornado damage to City Hall.

Or, police might be able to remotely spot a criminal for apprehension, Frey says. Sensors might help spot a bridge developing a life-threatening fault.

To do this, we will need to start thinking in 3-D. Our perspectives need to broaden, Frey says. Now, we largely think in 2-D for books, screens, documents. But if we could surf the web in 3-D, develop 3-D charts and graphs, we would open up possibilities to modify the systems that are part of our daily lives.

In the 1890s and early 1900s as cars and planes evolved, people were frightened of them too. But, then, we didn’t have the type of transportation infrastructure and safety systems in place we do today for autos and aircraft. That might shorten the timeline for acceptance by the average Jane or George (Jetson, that is).

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Dave Clarke

Dave Clarke is a California-based writer who is fascinated by the way technology changes our lives.