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Why We Don't Have Flying Cars
June 8, 2014 10:00 AM   Subscribe

Now you can stop asking.
posted by ssmug (103 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I posted this comment a while back in another thread and it still seems relevant:

"From a tweet on my timeline earlier this year:
Unless you're over 60, you weren't promised flying cars. You were promised an oppressive cyberpunk dystopia. Here you go."
posted by Fizz at 10:04 AM on June 8 [148 favorites]


I was worried this was going to be another whine-fest article, but I was very pleasantly surprised.

"But where is my flying car" has been as long as I can remember, one of the fundamentally lazy "geek humor" jibes I've been forced to swim up through, even before the Avery Brooks/IBM commercial brought it into mass culture. I really despise it.

"We have been a tad slow on some of the fundamental forces of the universe" is an excellent argument.
posted by jscott at 10:10 AM on June 8 [8 favorites]


The Man Will Never Fly Memorial Society
posted by fairmettle at 10:11 AM on June 8 [3 favorites]


We've had flying cars for a while now. They're called airplanes.
posted by Redfield at 10:11 AM on June 8 [11 favorites]


I think those are more flying busses than anything else.
posted by hippybear at 10:13 AM on June 8 [4 favorites]


I'm 34 and I was promised the availability of flying cars in 2015, as recently as 1989.
posted by aaronetc at 10:14 AM on June 8 [11 favorites]


Avery Brooks wants to know as well.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 10:19 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]


Dammit, jscott. I owe you a coke.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 10:19 AM on June 8


I would go back to whomever promised you a flying car by 2015 and ask for a refund... :)

I don't trust most ground drivers and I'm supposed to trust them in the air? Think of Coruscant in the Star Wars prequels...
posted by jwt0001 at 10:21 AM on June 8 [5 favorites]


Just saw Blade Runner in the theater for the first time in a while and while we don't have the flying cars, we do at least have the talking walk/don't walk signs from that movie. So that's something.
posted by octothorpe at 10:24 AM on June 8 [4 favorites]


I think those are more flying busses than anything else.

Ok, then they're called Cessnas. Pretty much everyone on my grandpa's side of the family had one. Go buy one. Voila... the future is now.
posted by dgaicun at 10:28 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]


Frankly, looking at the dismal piloting skills exhibited by most drivers here in LA, I sure hope we never, ever get flying cars.
posted by oxidizer at 10:29 AM on June 8 [8 favorites]


More funny than flying cars is videophones. Nothing is stopping us from having videophones, it's just that nobody wants that dumb shit. And yet movies about the future STILL keep showing us videophones (Examples in Robot & Frank and Ender's Game).
posted by dgaicun at 10:32 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]


We have videophones. People in the present use them all the time.
posted by 256 at 10:36 AM on June 8 [21 favorites]


Um... Skype, Facetime, on mobile devices and desktop computers...

We HAVE videophones. We don't use them to make regular telephone calls, but I do use video chat regularly with people.

Seriously, having an iPad, this flat thing much much thinner than most books I own, that I can carry around my house while having a two-way audio and video chat with someone... It's like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It truly is living in the future.

My car, however, remains earthbound.
posted by hippybear at 10:36 AM on June 8 [12 favorites]


Nothing is stopping us from having videophones, it's just that nobody wants that dumb shit.

Um, ever hear of a little thing called Skype?
posted by octothorpe at 10:37 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]


Or on non-preview, what everyone else said.
posted by octothorpe at 10:37 AM on June 8


I was going to edit something in about Skype, but whatevs. It's not that the tech doesn't exist, but that it's mostly not appealing.
posted by dgaicun at 10:39 AM on June 8 [3 favorites]


My neighbor says that they have the technology to make a zero emissions flying car, but Big Gravity is keeping it off the market.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 10:42 AM on June 8 [14 favorites]


It's not that the tech doesn't exist, but that it's mostly not appealing.

Depends on what you mean by "appealing".

I have a friend that lives 90 minutes away that I love hanging out with, but the distance is an obstacle. When I go visit, we hang out and have beer and talk about life with much laughter and insight.

On a more casual basis we both get on Skype with our tablets and spend time hanging out and have some beers and talk about life with much laughter and insight.

We can't do that over chat; we can't do that over the phone. Much gets lost when there is only text or audio.

Would I want to use video to call to make an appointment for an oil change for my car? No. But it is entirely the perfect tool for hanging out with a good friend. (And with multi-way video now available for free on Skype, I've even had evenings with several distant friends, each of us in our living rooms, but all of us together.)

My car, however, remains earthbound. :)
posted by hippybear at 10:46 AM on June 8


I always thought the reason why we didn't have flying cars is because it is quite easy to get out of a car and into an airplane.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 10:46 AM on June 8 [4 favorites]


Fuck flying cars! Give me some self-driving ones!
posted by QueerAngel28 at 10:50 AM on June 8 [18 favorites]


I'm more interested in the housecleaning/domestic bot. Sure we've got Roombas, but a general purpose bot that can chop veg or clean the bathroom ( always wash manipulators! ) would be totally cool. The cynical part of me thinks it'll come about from somebody developing sex bots.

But not enough people lust after flying cars.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:50 AM on June 8 [4 favorites]


You're right Brother. The Rosie's of the world will evolve out of the sexbots.
Every time I think of this, I remember the Futurama episode: Don't Date Robots!
posted by QueerAngel28 at 10:53 AM on June 8


I think the "we were promised flying cars" meme is simply shorthand for "we were promised a better future than this." Technology-driven abundance, radically different types of housing and transportation, abundant leisure time. You know, the road to Star Trek (skipping right past the Eugenics Wars of course).

I was born in 1961 and I definitely was promised flying cars. My elementary and middle school libraries had colorful books about THE FUTURE that showed people happily buzzing long in such devices. They would not only fly but be robot controlled--"the only accident possible will be between two drunk drivers who have disengaged their driving computers" one book promised.

"We were promised flying cars" = "Damn--is this it?"
posted by LarryC at 10:57 AM on June 8 [15 favorites]


(Also: Jim Carroll, Wicked Gravity.)
posted by LarryC at 11:05 AM on June 8 [1 favorite]


I'm actually obsessed with Facetime. I hate to sound like a shill, but Apple nailed this, and all my iphone using friends and I facetime instead of plain old phone calls. It's so much more context - you pick up the call and instead of explaining "oh I'm in a loud cafe that's why I can't hear you" they can clearly see you are in a cafe and you can see they are in a park and you're like "f this I'm going to where you are see you soon!"
It's like the ultimate snapchat.

I once read a book where future people would wear clothes made of paper that are just thrown away at the end of the day. This really resonated with me, and at 31 I still hate doing laundry and think about paper clothing on a weekly basis.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 11:05 AM on June 8 [4 favorites]


the real thing is that petroleum doesn't have enough energy per unit mass to be efficient for small groups of people to be flying all the time, or for getting people in and out of the air without long-ass runways. We've had fuel cells since the freaking 60s but nobody's been doing squat with them because oil companies have encouraged large institutions not to look down those avenues.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:09 AM on June 8 [3 favorites]


I figured it was just because if your flying cat ever broke down in the middle of a trip, you'd be a lot more screwed than if the same thing happened in an earth-bound car. Although, I guess bush and private planes don't fall out of the sky all the time, so maybe it'd be a matter of enough people wanting to learn to fly a flying car.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 11:12 AM on June 8


Videophones were predicted and have arrived, but I don't remember anyone predicting that when we finally gained the capability of videophones many would instead prefer use that tool to write (text) to each other.
posted by TimTypeZed at 11:14 AM on June 8 [5 favorites]


Id settle for a jetpack
posted by T.D. Strange at 11:20 AM on June 8


The weirdest thing about the ascendancy of video chat is that everyone at work wants to use it all the time. Um, no thanks dudes.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:21 AM on June 8 [3 favorites]


Relevant, LarryC.
posted by a halcyon day at 11:24 AM on June 8


I don't remember anyone predicting that when we finally gained the capability of videophones many would instead prefer use that tool to write (text) to each other.

Paula Poundstone has a bit that goes something like, "Texting, the stupidest thing I've ever seen! If we hadn't already invented the telephone, I'd think it was brilliant!"
posted by hippybear at 11:25 AM on June 8 [3 favorites]


Logistically, how do you keep millions of people zipping around in flying cars without buzzing through power lines and crashing through buildings? Not to mention, what the hell happens when you run out of gas or blow a hover engine or whatever - just plummet from the sky into someone's back yard? I know driving on the ground is fraught with danger at every turn but a viable infrastructure for flying cars would be gino-massive.
posted by double bubble at 11:32 AM on June 8 [1 favorite]


Also, I hate videophones. Have you seen me on videophone? Ugh. SO HORRIBLE all flat and pasty and I don't care how much makeup I've got on, I still look like I'm recovering from a three week stomach bug ALL THE TIME.
posted by double bubble at 11:35 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]


Despite having one of the biggest imaginations of my entire 3rd grade class, I was the biggest butt when it came to thinking about what the "future" would be like. I have a very distinct memory of being asked to write a paragraph about the year 2013 or something and everyone else got rave reviews for their comments about flying cars and spaceships and all that jazz. Then I got up and said that 2013 was probably going to be a lot like 1996 and only a little bit different because maybe we'd be having another depression or war since we seemed to deal with that stuff every 30-50 years. Man, my teacher was pissed. She wouldn't even put my paper up on the wall after that and I think she even called home for the first time to explain to my parents that I had willfully ignored instructions in a terrible way.

Looking back on the incident now makes me wonder how much my exposure to Star Trek influenced my somewhat frank vision, because anyone who'd seen TNG knew that earth had many hundreds of years to go before real progress and real innovation was going to happen. Now my hope for the future has to do with social progress, not technological, though I wouldn't say no to a replicator if someone wouldn't mind getting on that ASAP.
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:38 AM on June 8 [23 favorites]


Requisite roundup link to previous talk of missing flying cars here.

I do think it's funny how videophones haven't caught on as much as you'd think. But probably for the reason double bubble said, i.e. who looks good in a closeup of their head on a laptop camera? I don't want to have to look at myself and my fat head doing that, ugh.

Hermione Granger: HOLY CRAP YOU'RE PSYCHIC!
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:40 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]


By all means, let's give texting drivers a third dimension to deal with.
posted by Legomancer at 11:43 AM on June 8 [23 favorites]


I assumed I'd get here and find people arguing about the "electromagnetic" nature of flying, or sharing some exciting news about projects people are working on that may reveal the secrets of gravity or something!

This may be a dumb question, but have we ever even vaguely harnessed gravity in the space program? Some of that, maybe slingshot orbit stuff with probes? Or by the definition in this article, would that be all electromagnetic too, since the initial velocity was generated by fuel?
posted by Secretariat at 11:47 AM on June 8


have we ever even vaguely harnessed gravity in the space program? Some of that, maybe slingshot orbit stuff with probes? Or by the definition in this article, would that be all electromagnetic too, since the initial velocity was generated by fuel?

I'm pretty sure using the gravity well of solar system objects to increase velocity and change trajectory is not considered electromagnetic in nature, despite the initial energy of flight being created by such.

We have not truly "harnessed gravity" in any real meaningful way. Our use of gravity to slingshot objects is pretty much basic physics and is not manipulating gravity itself, rather using its presence toward an intended goal.

If we ever do get to where we can manipulate gravity instead of merely using the fact of it, our society will change greatly.
posted by hippybear at 12:08 PM on June 8 [3 favorites]


This may be a dumb question, but have we ever even vaguely harnessed gravity in the space program? Some of that, maybe slingshot orbit stuff with probes?

That's sort of like "harnessing" a waterfall by hopping in a barrel and going over the edge. It's just kind of there and we're along for the ride.

It's a question of subtlety and understanding. "Harnessing" gravity in the author's sense would mean like emitting gravitons and anti-gravitons to move stuff around or hang pictures on your wall without a nail.
posted by device55 at 12:09 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]


@hippybear - save you a seat in my barrel?
posted by device55 at 12:14 PM on June 8


What is it with the demanding flying cars all the time? Do you ever go outside and walk along a street? If you do, you've probably noticed that drivers don't do so well with only two dimensions to work with, and I would be quite happy if more drivers were restricted to a single dimension for driving. Or even trapped on a point. There would be less chance of them running into me.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:48 PM on June 8


the real reason we don't have flying cars is that every place we'd go in them is still on the ground

it really is that simple
posted by pyramid termite at 12:52 PM on June 8 [4 favorites]


A further question might be: From the tiny little bit we know about gravity, is it even able to be manipulated, in the way we'd use that word? I mean, being able to directly manipulate gravity is essentially perpetual motion from our perspective.
posted by maxwelton at 12:58 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]


The issue that kills "flying cars" for me is that I'm frequently terrified by the grounded cars on a fully-defined multi-lane highway and cannot imagine going up into an not-physically-restrained aerial environment with the same kind of drivers we have down here. And don't go "self-driving" on me - by 2020, aerial Drone collisions will probably be as frequent as highway collisions. In other words, "you ain't gettin' me to go up in one of those things!"
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:00 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]


Oh my God if one more damn person complains about the driving/navigation issues, I swear...

Look, assuming purely and only for the sake of argument that we overcame the lift vs power source mass issues (whether that's anti-gravity or a very very lightweight high-density energy storage or what-have-you), who in their right mind thinks that humans would ever be allowed at the controls?

Google's damn close to autonomous driving, and that's down here on the ground where it's crowded. One, two hundred feet above the surface things are much more sparse and easy to navigate, and all you've really gone and done is improved your lift:weight ratio sufficiently to add people to the list of things Amazon drones will deliver point to point.

The real reasons flying cars stand a snowball's chance in hell of existing, period, are a) if we had the tech, then urban pressure will eventually make it economical in the very densest areas to repurpose the massive footprint dedicated to automotive traffic, and b) traffic congestion in the very densest areas would seriously benefit from having three dimensions to work in, rather than two.
posted by Ryvar at 1:01 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]


I do think it's funny how videophones haven't caught on as much as you'd think. But probably for the reason double bubble said, i.e. who looks good in a closeup of their head on a laptop camera? I don't want to have to look at myself and my fat head doing that, ugh.

That and the fact that sometimes I want to answer a call and not have the caller see that I am in fact doing other things as they drone on: video calls are terrible for that. Plus it only really works in private space: if you use it in a cafe it's like having all your calls on speakerphone, which I guess you might not mind, but probably everyone else does.

And I want it all: flying cars, robots who may or may not gain sentience, the leisure... (Though not the clothing of any Star Trek future. It's like all the people with taste died some time in the 2200s in the Great Design Plague.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 1:04 PM on June 8 [3 favorites]


if your flying cat ever broke down in the middle of a trip, you'd be a lot more screwed than if the same thing happened in an earth-bound car

Nothing could be more unpleasant than when your flying cat breaks down in the middle of a trip. They just don't make flying cats like they used to. They are definitively less than purrfect.
posted by euphorb at 1:05 PM on June 8 [11 favorites]


humans are not equipped to safely pilot a fast-moving vehicle in two dimensions, let alone three. We can handle one dimension, though -- just sit in your car in the driveway and make vroom-vroom noises.
posted by klanawa at 1:20 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]


A further question might be: From the tiny little bit we know about gravity, is it even able to be manipulated, in the way we'd use that word? I mean, being able to directly manipulate gravity is essentially perpetual motion from our perspective.

Given the current consensus about elementary particles directly manipulating gravity seems like a giant no-no. Warping the very fabric of spacetime using energy on the other hand...
posted by Talez at 1:25 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]


Google's damn close to autonomous driving, and that's down here on the ground where it's crowded. One, two hundred feet above the surface things are much more sparse and easy to navigate

Google's being "damn close" to autonomous driving is not the same as autonomous driving be close to adoption. Also, the reason things are "much more sparse and easy to navigate" a few hunderd feet up is because we do not currently have flying cars! Once we do, that space becomes a highway.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:35 PM on June 8


We've had flying cars for a while now. They're called airplanes.

I think those are more flying busses than anything else.


They come in Fun Size too.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:35 PM on June 8


Nothing could be more unpleasant than when your flying cat breaks down in the middle of a trip.

As we have recently learned,, rocket cats were meant to break down....
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:37 PM on June 8 [5 favorites]


Born in the 60s, I was not promised flying cars. Maybe it's an American thing. In the UK I was repeatedly promised a robot that would do my ironing.
posted by Hogshead at 1:48 PM on June 8


Sure...you could manipulate gravity, but why? It's actually the weakest of the known forces (ok it does act over infinite distance, unlike the nuclear forces, but that's another story) at approx 10^-43 (IIRC) the strength of magnetism. Get one of those big boat magnets and hang from the bottom of a bridge, ok, you just used something the size of a muffin to counteract the force of a ball of iron 8000 miles across.
posted by sexyrobot at 1:49 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]


Don't text and fly your car, people. It can wait.
posted by monospace at 1:58 PM on June 8


We don't have flying cars because we have flying motorcycles, and all they do is fly OVER cars until the cars say, man, let's just stay on the ground, because we're never going to win.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 2:26 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]


We have used gravity as a technology in roughly the same manner as various hominids "used" electricity when they were fortunate enough to stumble upon a tree set on fire from a lightning strike.
posted by adipocere at 2:35 PM on June 8


Man, I hope we never get flying cars.

Already it's the shits with people taking their land-bound motorized vehicles all over the freakin' country, tearing up the desert and the mountains around Idaho. Got a four wheeler or 4WD? Tear the shit up outta that hill! Rip up that mud bog and fix it that no one else can go down this back road.

Flying cars will be everywhere. At least if I get out far enough into the rocks, sage, and badger holes, I can ride my horse in relative peace.

At least till the small planes and helicopters go overhead.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:07 PM on June 8


Incidentally, Google is "damn close" to autonomous driving in much the same way that EPCOT is damn close to visiting the world. Turns out Google engineers have manually measured things like curb locations to the inch and implicit speed limits for their whole town, which is why their autonomous car can't leave Mountain View. It is, in no small part, a trick in the sense that magic consists largely of doing far more work than a reasonable person would to accomplish something seemingly simple or small.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:11 PM on June 8 [8 favorites]


Born in the 60s, I was not promised flying cars. Maybe it's an American thing. In the UK I was repeatedly promised a robot that would do my ironing.

Actually, given the place of honor that the car has in The American Mythos, its role in bridging frontier space, actual and literal, its position as a bringer of freedom and opportunity - yeah, it's totally understandable why 'flying car' is the totem of the future.

I won't comment on what this says about laundry and the UK.

Honestly, the thing that I can't figure out is why we haven't done more with rail -- when I was young I remember thinking "One day, we'll get all this rail traffic underground, we'll drive our cars onto specialized carriages, the car's engine will hook into a distributed drivetrain and we'll all use less fuel to get to where we're going, and faster, while in the meantime we'll be in our own cars, like private rail coaches in the 1880's."

Aside from the pitiable Auto-Train offer from Amtrak, it's about as close as a flying car.
posted by eclectist at 3:14 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]


I imagine if we had flying cars we'd require them to use transponders like planes have. If every flying car is able to tell every other flying car where it is and where it's going, the automatic navigation will likely be a lot easier.

One of the big hurdles to autonomous navigation is surely the legacy infrastructure that wasn't designed with that in mind. If you introduced a flying car today, the regulatory environment that would emerge in response would presumably take care of all of that.
posted by damonism at 3:27 PM on June 8


If we can manipulate gravity, we won't need big metal objects to travel in and to transport things. We won't need cars, flying or not.
posted by gingerest at 3:31 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]


At this point, I'd settle for a future where a modest standard of living (including not dying of easily preventable diseases or malnutrition) is guaranteed to everyone, and we don't burn the future on the altar of "growth".
posted by [expletive deleted] at 3:36 PM on June 8 [7 favorites]


[expletive deleted]: "At this point, I'd settle for a future where a modest standard of living (including not dying of easily preventable diseases or malnutrition) is guaranteed to everyone, and we don't burn the future on the altar of "growth"."

Now that's an unbelievable fantasy. I'm pretty sure we'll get the jetpacks before that happens.
posted by octothorpe at 3:43 PM on June 8 [3 favorites]


If you introduced a flying car today, the regulatory environment that would emerge in response would presumably take care of all of that.

You might have missed this, but we're currently at the point where most of our existing regulatory systems are being stripped and replaced with much weaker and less effective regulatory systems because the economics and politics make those systems unsustainable in practice. Even our existing air traffic control systems have been strained to the point many worry they're starting to breakdown. If we want a better future, we're going to need a better culture first.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:03 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]


Turns out Google engineers have manually measured things like curb locations to the inch and implicit speed limits for their whole town, which is why their autonomous car can't leave Mountain View.

So how sure are you that the Google Moas cars, which seem to traverse the entire US every four years or so aren't doing those measurements right now?
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:03 PM on June 8


We have flying cars. They're called helicopters.
posted by Tom-B at 4:24 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]


This article is weird. Sure, power and lift are part of the challenge of flying cars but that part has been pretty well solved. It's not even too expensive; a shitty piston engine 4 seater plane is about 12mpg, or half the efficiency of a car, and it'd go to 2x or 3x that if we used modern piston engines.

The real problem with flying cars is they require pilots. And flying is significantly harder than driving, for all sorts of reasons like a third dimension and the crushing reality of gravity. You have a problem in a car and you just slow down or pull over and stop. You have a problem in a plane? Well, you've got to land some time, and landing is the hard part.

I think flying cars would be way more practical if we had autonomous flying cars. Happily, autonomous flight turns out to be easier than autonomous driving. I think it'd be possible, but it would still require enormous infrastructure. Runway takeoff and landing is pretty much impossible, you need vertical flight like a helicopter to actually go somewhere useful. But then the engineering gets a lot harder.
posted by Nelson at 4:31 PM on June 8


Turns out Google engineers have manually measured things like curb locations to the inch and implicit speed limits for their whole town, which is why their autonomous car can't leave Mountain View.

So how sure are you that the Google Moas cars, which seem to traverse the entire US every four years or so aren't doing those measurements right now?
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:03 AM on June 9 [+] [!]


To be fair, I don't. That said, getting the rest of the country to the same level of detail as Mountain View sounds like one of those boil-the-oceans problems, similar to the solar panel roadways that have been making the rounds of late (of which I am of course a huge fan, but I never foresee them overtaking asphalt paving overall). Incidentally, the original article that mentions the amount of pre-recorded data that the self-driving cars rely on is here, lest it look like I'm making it all up as I go along, or at least more so than usual.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:42 PM on June 8


My podunk town used to have a trolley that would take you through a couple of towns to the slightly larger podunk city about 10 miles away. I would have been able to walk to it from where I live. I could also have gotten on the trolley and gone to the train station, and from there to pretty much anywhere thanks to a nation-spanning rail network. All of that is long gone.

Imagining public transportation and rail infrastructure here in my faded, economically depressed factory town feels more like science fiction than flying cars does.
posted by usonian at 5:26 PM on June 8 [15 favorites]


We've had designs for flying cars for decades now. The real reason they've never caught on is that they were expensive, awkward to use, and frankly, but very useful. I think similar problems will keep flying cars from ever becoming popular, with no need to invoke the dangers of flying commuters.
posted by happyroach at 6:02 PM on June 8


It's public knowledge that the mayor of my city regularly drives home through my neighbourhood while drunk and also likely high on crack. The police seem powerless to stop him. I'd prefer to keep him on the ground. Also, I'd like the public transit and bike infrastructure he killed back.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:18 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]


We need selfdriving flying car or it won't work.
posted by vayan at 6:25 PM on June 8


I just want transporter technology already.
posted by rtha at 6:28 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]


Any automated navigation system that works primarily based on stored data is a fundamentally dangerous system.
posted by lodurr at 6:29 PM on June 8


The un-automated system we have now is pretty dangerous, too.
posted by anifinder at 6:50 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]


An automated system based on stored data would be inherently fragile. The un-automated system is inherently robust. I prefer the latter, until such time as we can get an automated system that doesn't have to rely primarily on stored data.

Because roads change.
posted by lodurr at 6:54 PM on June 8


The idea that "The un-automated system is inherently robust" is pretty hilarious. Seriously, have you ever driven? Or seen people drive? There are so many failure modes that you can't even begin to count them. People drive drunk, fall asleep at the wheel, play with the radio, play with their phones, eat Mcnuggets, turn around to yell at their kids, etc. Heck I remember reading about a wreck caused by a bee flying around in a car that cause the driver to wreck and kill three people.

I'm finding it really hard to imagine an automated system that could be worse than humans.
posted by octothorpe at 7:34 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]


Interesting. It's true that we use electromagnetism for almost all our power production. The strong force is, as they say, strong, and using nuclear fission or fusion unlocks a lot of energy (and hopefully energy density). With more (cheap, clean) power, you can have your cheap flying. I leave it to someone else to decide if that means a personal flying car in each garage, or a first class ticket anytime you want for practically nothing.

Gravity, on the other hand, is more a mystery. After really mastering it, do you get to hover for no energy? Is it another power source? Do you get to push off the Earth with the force that you are stuck to it today? I, for one, look forward to artificial gravity, but don't look forward to the Gravity Wars of 2452.
posted by Phredward at 8:03 PM on June 8


One of the big hurdles to autonomous navigation is surely the legacy infrastructure that wasn't designed with that in mind.

This. And thank you for a succinct version of the argument I figured wasn't worth wasting my breath on, given the arc of this thread.

We have flying cars. They're called helicopters.

Precisely. Flying cars along the lines of autonomous oversized people-transporting Parrot drones are a matter of materials science and economics: lighter rigid structural materials, lighter high-density power storage. For it to make sense economically, though, urban density would have to cross a fairly high threshold over a fairly large area. There's a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg problem here: people won't design cities around a transportation method which does not yet exist, and without thusly designed cities the need is unlikely to rise to the level necessary to provoke expenditure of the required R&D capital.
posted by Ryvar at 9:56 PM on June 8


Eric Laithwaite demonstrated anti-gravity at the Royal Institution in 1974. I remember telling my physics teacher all about it (he stared at me in complete silence until I went away). Unfortunately the Abominable Knowmen, as Laithwaite called them, forced him to recant.

That's why we don't have flying cars.
posted by Segundus at 1:15 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]


When I look at the standard of driving on our roads I am damned glad we don't have flying cars. Long may that situation continue.
posted by Decani at 1:18 AM on June 9


I just want transporter technology already.

Because of a yearning for random fly-parts being incorporated into your being?

That doesn't end well.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:39 AM on June 9


The idea that "The un-automated system is inherently robust" is pretty hilarious. Seriously, have you ever driven?

Oh, jesus that's a dumb comeback.

I drive 45 minutes each way 5 days a week. So, yes, I have, and my conclusion based on that, and given that what I'm looking at is thousands of vehicles driving a mile a minute without significant problems, is that the un-automated system is inherently robust.

Frankly I find this whole "have [you/they] ever driven?" response to flying cars to be terminally inane.
posted by lodurr at 3:00 AM on June 9


I'll spell this out for you: We have an un-automated system for driving that puts autonomous thinking machines with a proven capability to make rapid decisions into the car. We have a workflow system that is designed to ensure that those people have at least minimal training and certifcation to be in that spot. Changes to the terrain or traffic situation can be responded to in real time. That means the system is inherently robust.

If we had a system that relied heavily on stored knowledge for its ability to do things like park, the system would be back to baseline every time the terrain changed. That makes it inherently fragile.

The fact that it takes more skill to fly than drive is a highly significant problem for flying cars. The scale is so wildly different from what we do when we drive that the comparison of the two situations is inane at best.
posted by lodurr at 3:06 AM on June 9


I bought a robot the other day by entering a sequence of key presses on my personal communicator device. That's future enough for me.
posted by deathpanels at 4:45 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]


A two-foot high barrier will keep most civilian vehicles out of a place you don't want cars to go. Imagine replacing them all with 100-foot barriers to keep out flying cars.
posted by Legomancer at 5:36 AM on June 9


http://www.gravitycontrol.org/Eric-Laithwaite.html
posted by lungtaworld at 6:09 AM on June 9


Flying cars seem to be as much about translating "Rules of the Road" to the skies, with minor modifications. Great if you have strong cultural recognition of said rules, but in places where driving is a free-for-all (Boston), might as well just call it Bumper Cars 3-D. On the other hand, it would be interesting to take the rules for commercial and private flight and apply those to land transport.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:02 AM on June 9


On the other hand, it would be interesting to take the rules for commercial and private flight and apply those to land transport.

Oh wow, yeah--could you imagine? What if you had to perform a complete system safety check, submit the data to authorities, and then request permission from ground traffic control anytime you needed to drive to the convenience store or whatever? If we had that level of regulatory control, driving might actually become as safe as flying. But it wouldn't be nearly as cheap, quick, routine, or convenient.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:06 AM on June 9


If we had that level of regulatory control, car accidents wouldn't be as commonplace, and death by car crash would be both rare and overreported.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:25 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]


Flying car? As if! You're all just jealous of my jetpack.
posted by gern at 10:45 AM on June 9


If we had that level of regulatory control, we'd be living in a fundamentally different society and every single person on this thread would be hopelessly miserable.
posted by lodurr at 11:08 AM on June 9


I'm sorry, but a promise is a promise and I will not stop asking.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:48 AM on June 9


If we had that level of regulatory control, car accidents wouldn't be as commonplace, and death by car crash would be both rare and overreported.

This is exactly what my flying instructor used to say all the time.
posted by valkane at 12:06 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]


Don't text and fly your cat, people
posted by mumimor at 1:39 PM on June 9 [2 favorites]


Any navigation system that works primarily based on stored data is a fundamentally dangerous system.

That's the opening scene of Snow Crash.
posted by BeerFilter at 4:44 PM on June 9


Fizz: "I posted this comment a while back in another thread and it still seems relevant:

"From a tweet on my timeline earlier this year:
Unless you're over 60, you weren't promised flying cars. You were promised an oppressive cyberpunk dystopia. Here you go."
"

I am turning 37 in a few days. Back to the Future II was a very big deal to me when it first came out.

Not because of the instant hydrating pizzas, Jaws 15 or whatever, self-drying jackets or self lacing shoes.

It was the flying cars. I thought, where we were going, we wouldn't need roads.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:44 PM on June 9


That's the opening scene of Snow Crash.

IIRC it's actually Hiro's memory that causes the problem. He relies on the high degree of regularity and gambles on being able to make a shortcut that he can't make because that particular yard isn't regular. So it's basically all driven by the fact that he's trying to optimize so far past the Pareto boundary.
posted by lodurr at 3:38 AM on June 10


I'd settle for one of these.
posted by homunculus at 9:16 PM on June 13


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