The European Union is funding research into PAVs as part of “out-of-the-box” thinking about the future of air transport. It has put $4.7 million into the myCopter project, which six research institutions are studying.
Actual PAVs don’t exist yet, but simulators do. A New York Times reporter recently tried one out.
And private industry is getting into the act, too. Terrafugia — according to their website, the name is “derived from the Latin for ‘escape from Earth’” – is working on a flying car called the Transition. They describe it as:
a two-place, fixed wing street legal aircraft that fits in a single car garage and is designed to be flown in and out of general aviation airports.
The enthusiasm behind these projects jumps off their websites. The myCopter may have a website that screams “government-funded,” but you can tell that the researchers are really excited about it.
And the folks at Terrafugia are downright giddy about the possibilities. Of course, they’re looking for investors.
As someone who has spent far too many hours stuck in traffic, I’m all in favor of solutions. But I can’t help being afraid that the skies are going to get way too crowded. The myCopter is intended to fly at levels below that of ordinary airplanes but over tall buildings and highways. I hope they’re working on serious mufflers, because the ordinary helicopters that land at the hospital a few blocks from me are damn loud.
The Transition will use general aviation airports, meaning it will need to work with our already busy air traffic controllers.
I’m sure it will help if the tech Google is developing for self-driving cars is incorporated in these devices. And I must say that the idea of flying somewhere without getting to the airport two hours early and going through the TSA checkpoint is appealing.
But still: what are these things going to cost? Will they just be luxury vehicles for those who already manage to avoid the travel trials and tribulations suffered by us ordinary mortals? Or do these researchers and entrepreneurs foresee a world in which all 9 billion of the people we’re projected to end up with on this planet – population is supposed to level off at about that point – have one each? Or, at least, one per household.
To be honest, what I’d really like to see ahead of flying cars is high speed rail between cities, and a combination of light rail and subways within them. Maybe the flying cars – and the regular cars and the self-driving cars – could be picked up at stops in the more rural areas. Someone raising sheep in West Texas could probably use a myCopter to get around their spread, but I think rail would do us a lot more good here in Austin.
I was in New York City this winter. It was a pain to get there on an airplane, because getting into Manhattan from any airport is irritating. But once we were there, the subway went everywhere. We never waited more than five minutes for a train – something that, alas, is not true of the San Francisco Bay Area’s BART or the Washington, DC, Metro. And the rest of US cities don’t have systems as comprehensive as BART or Metro.
I love being able to get somewhere quickly and reliably without having to find a parking place when I arrive. Flying cars are not a solution to the parking problem.
Still: flying cars. The world gets more science fictional every day. Though Randall Munroe doesn’t think we should hold our breath waiting for jet packs.
And I still want to see teleportation devices like the Star Trek transporter. OK, so I wrote a story – “Commuting” in Flashes of Illumination – that turned on the complications of that sort of device. I still want one.
Instantaneous travel: Sleep in one place, work in another, and go out to dinner in a third, all without jet lag. That’s the future I’m waiting for.