The idea of the flying car has long represented our idea of the future, but is one that literally has never taken off. A combination of its gravity-defying dangerousness, the need to regulate airspace, the difficulty of maneuvering one, presumably involving significant training, along with the costs involved in developing and then manufacturing flying cars has kept them firmly in the realm of science fiction and cartoons and that few of us would ever expect to see zooming across the skies in our lifetime.
But a number of recent developments seem to be making the concept increasingly feasible. Geely, the Chinese holding company that owns Volvo, has bought Terrafugia, a veteran player in the field, founded in 2006 by a group of MIT engineers and MBAs. At the Powerful Ideas Summit in Valencia in 2007, I briefly met Carl Dietrich, its founder, a brilliant engineer who funded the creation of the company with his winnings from the Lemelson-MIT Prize, the most important award for inventors in the United States, and who had already generated considerable confidence, despite the long road that lay ahead to overcome the skeptics.
Geely’s acquisition of Terrafugia is, in the words of the company, about “making flying cars a reality”, and follows others in pursuit of the same goal. Airbus, no less, says its Vahana, an electrically powered craft with vertical take-off and landing, will begin definitive testing at the end of this year. Meanwhile, its main competitor, Boeing, has recently acquired Aurora, which is working with Uber and NASA to develop flying taxis scheduled to begin operating in Dallas and Dubai in 2020. In fact, the UAE’s largest city has already begun trials. Then there are startups such as Zee.Aero and Kitty Hawk, funded by Larry Page and being developed at facilities close to Google’s HQ, which can hardly be described as outlandish.
According to NASA reports from 2015 overseen by Mark Moore, an aeronautical engineer who recently joined Uber, vertical takeoff vehicles as a service for civilian use could soon be financially viable, making them as common as taxis are today.
Acquisitions, startups, the involvement of major corporations, along with new concepts such as autonomous craft, all indicate that flying cars are an idea whose time has finally come. If you thought it more likely that pigs would fly, think again. Innovation has outrun your imagination.
(En español, aquí)