I really don't understand the hype about flying cars...

Updated: Oct 21, 2019


The flying cars from the movie, The Fifth Element.

In many occasions, technology is guided by sci-fi movies and novels. From communications satellites to the AI computer that can talk to people in natural languages, it seems that sci-fi novelists and movie makers are thousand-year ahead of real-life scientists and engineers (FYR, real-life technologies inspired by movies and science fiction).


There are, however, big differences between fiction and real technology. For the former, the most important thing is that the notion looks cool on the big screen. But for the later, there are tons of feasibility checks that will have to be done before a thing can be put into use in reality. Therefore, when one borrows concepts from fictional stories, it’s important to distinguish between the ideas that bring us more benefits than troubles and those that bring us more troubles than benefits.


Unfortunately, flying cars, one of the most iconic items of a future city in people’s imagination, fall into the trouble-making group in my opinion! To be more precise, if one wishes to put flying cars into the daily scenes of our future, the following are the issues he or she will have to deal with first.


How to Regulate the Traffic?


One of the major advantages of having a flying automobile lies in how it can potentially shorten the time you spend on travel. By allowing vehicles to move in 3 dimensions instead of 2, one can easily avoid being trapped in a frustrating traffic jam, and at the same time escaping from the restraint of any traffic light or sign. Or at least, this is the vision that the people who sell flying cars want you to believe.


The chances are that with flying automobiles become faster and more prevalent in the future, more and more vehicles will have to compete for spots in midair while attempting to evade from being hit at the same time. Accordingly, some sort of regulation must be applied to them in order to ensure the safety of the drivers. However, considering how wide the sky is, such regulation should be difficult to implement in reality.


The clip below comes from the movie, The Fifth Element, and there are two things worth emphasizing. First, even in an imaginary world, the flying cars seem to obey certain rules which dictate them to move in designated routes orderly. Second, how complicated these routes can be and how dangerous driving may become if one or two drivers are unwilling to comply with the protocols. And this brings us to our next doubt: what may happen if flying cars have a car accident?



Car Accidents for Flying Automobiles


To me, one of the biggest concerns about flying cars is how safe they really are when an accident occur. In the past, the shock coming from the collision between two vehicles is likely to be the only thing you will have to take. But in a 3D car crash, it’s almost certain that the cars will have to fall from several stories high after the impact! And such fall is destined to have a huge negative effect on the surviving rate of the flying-car drivers.


Moreover, the level of damage caused by a flying-car accident can be far more severe than the one caused by regular automobiles. Note that once a flying car loses power or control due to some reason, it may smash into a house or a story of a building, killing the people inside. Or even worse, it can speedily going down from the sky, and taking down other vehicles along its way of falling (P.S., Remember that people are not used to paying attention to the things above. That’s why people always hide on the top when attempting to lose themselves from others’ sight).


Scene from Mission Impossible 1. Ethan Hunt hung on the top to avoid being noticed.

No Special License Needed?


Considering how perilous driving a flying cars can be, and how the skills required for driving a flying machine are different from handling a normal vehicle, it’s crazy that one is given permission to operate these aerial automobiles with a common driver license or even no license at all! Of course, the manufacturers of flying cars have been reported to make their vehicles as easy to drive as possible, and in the meantime including a lot of safety features such as auto-landing, parachutes and so forth to secure the people in it. But still, in my opinion, there are a lot of rather professional skills that people should have before they can take off, and the following are some instances:


  • Safety guidelines which not only about protecting the ones inside a flying car but also those who are outside.

  • How to protect themselves in midair when an accident happens (e.g., learning how to use a parachute correctly).

  • How to take off and land the vehicle safely.

  • A training about getting used to drive in 3 dimensions.


Public Security Concerns


We’d love to see an exciting flying-car chase in a sci-fi movie, like the one in The Fifth Element. Nonetheless, if the scene takes place in real life, I bet you won’t feel the same. High-speed car chase in 2D has already been dangerous enough and usually causes plenty of damages during the process. Can you imagine it goes 3D? Most importantly, a regular car can be stopped by roadblocks or other similar measures. But how can one stops a flying car when it is used as an escaping tool by the criminals?


This is a regular car chase. Imagine how difficult the culprit can be caught if it goes 3D?


New Annoying Factors


Although flying cars may be a solution to the problems such as traffic jams, they can create some mild but potentially annoying troubles that people will have to deal with (I mean besides the life-and-death issues mentioned previously).


The first thing is about how noisy these machines can be. The following is a clip which gives you some idea about the noise made by one single engine used by the flying car named BlackFly. Now, imagine there are hundreds of flying cars rushing above your head or passing by your windows. How should that sound like? Well, definitely not something we can enjoy I suppose!


See 00:48 to 00:59


The wind resulting from liftoff is also an issue that must be taken into consideration. From the previous clip, we have already seen how powerful a flying car’s engine is, and how it caused people to wobble when it was switched on. If that does not go away in the future, it's likely that the flying cars’ drivers will be required to take off in some sparsely populated areas in order to keep the other cars on the road and the pedestrians safe, accordingly bringing extra inconvenience to these drivers.


With that being said, I believe flying cars can immediately bring conspicuous merits to certain applications, and the following are two instances that I can think of:


  • Emergency Vehicles


Speaking of saving lives or fighting crimes, every seconds count, and this is exactly the occasion where flying cars can show off their biggest advantage. Note that an important thing about emergency vehicles such as an ambulance or a police car is that they only hit the road occasionally under some special conditions, so they should have very limited influence to us even if they possess the “annoying factors” we mentioned previously.


  • Entertaining Purposes


Flying cars have a huge entertaining value in a place like an amusement park. With proper regulation and reasonable planning, people can enjoy the aerial view without putting their lives on the line.


Conclusion


As I always say, if your innovation has nothing to do with people’s lives, it’s great to open your mind and be bold with your imagination. However, when your innovations can potentially kill someone, extra caution will be required before they can be released on the market. In the case of flying cars, we should spend more time dealing with the potential cruces that they have. Otherwise, instead of a success, the future is going to be an unrealistic reverie which only looks cool in a sci-fi movie!

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