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What a Future with Flying Cars Might Look Like

Jetsons Style Flying Car - Image by TET & Leonardo.ai
Jetsons Style Flying Car - Image by TET & Leonardo.ai
Regular readers of this blog will know that flying cars have been a recurring subject over the years. I even collected all my posts into a book you can buy on Amazon Kindle called Where's My Flying Car?

The development of a true flying car is a fanciful one, largely because we've yet to come up with anything that actually looks like a car that flies. 

Most serious projects that even make it to a prototype are either small planes that compact into something you might drive from your home to an airport (if they don't have any vertical landing and take off (VTOL) capability) but you wouldn't drive to you local supermarket for the weekly groceries run, or they're some kind of drone/helicopter configuration with so many propellers you'll worry about shredding pedestrians who get too close.

The dream is something that looks exactly like a car but can drive on a road, or hover (kind of like Luke Skywalker's Landspeeder in Star Wars), and ultimately hover and fly around at any altitude.

Let's just say someone cracks it. How would a future with flying cars actually work?


It'll Be CHAOS!!! (Will it though?)

Flying Car Traffic Chaos - Image by TET & Leonardo.ai
Flying Car Traffic Chaos. Maybe we
don't want to fly too close to each other!
 - Image by TET & Leonardo.ai
One argument against flying cars is that people imagine you'll be able to fly anywhere in much the same way you can drive a regular car anywhere... but with altitude. 

We all know someone who shouldn't be allowed to drive even regular ground based vehicles. The thought of them driving four or five stories above street level is terrifying. You know the type. They think they're amazing drivers. That's why things like speed limits, road rules, and generally being a nice person behind the wheel don't apply to them.

Then there's the issue of what happens when a flying car runs out of fuel mid trip? Are they going to just drop out of the sky? We've all run out of fuel in our regular vehicle at some point, so you know it's going to happen five stories above street level.

Obviously a single flying car in an urban environment has a lot of safety issues to overcome. Even more so if we are to get to the point where our main ride is a flying car. This is why a flying car needs to be able to hover in place at any altitude. Speed cannot be a factor for keeping it in the air. Its default state in the air has to be to hover in place.


Amateur Futurist Says It Will Not Be Chaos

Sixties Retro Style Flying Cars look kind of cool! - Image by TET & Leonardo.ai
Sixties Retro Style Flying Cars look kind of cool!
- Image by TET & Leonardo.ai
The way my mind works is, I can see how an entire system might work in an instant,  based on no actual research or study just whatever knowledge happens to be rattling around my head at the time.

I was taking a morning shower, listening to various podcasts, as I do. On one of them (episode 27 of Batman on Film's Batmanimation podcast), one of the hosts mentioned the exact scenario of flying cars just falling out of the sky as a reason to not want them around.

This triggered my thoughts into overdrive because I really want to see actual flying cars, like we were promised in the movies, in my lifetime.

In the future the chance of a flying car just falling out of the sky will be minimal (never say never right?). In fact flying cars will likely be safer than the regular ground based vehicles we drive now.


My Vision for How a Future with Flying Cars Might Look

Disclaimer: I'm not going to claim any of this as if I'm the first person to have these ideas. All I'll say is I did no research into this until after I wrote all this down. The actual research papers, by actual futurists I found were so long, dry and boring I was tempted to copy them into ChatGPT just to get a short, dry and boring summary... don't believe me... Here's one - The Flying Car—Challenges and Strategies Toward Future Adoption. Here's another one that likely contains some of the concepts I'm about to share - Flying Car Transportation System: Advances, Techniques, and Challenges. Needless to say I got bored at the thought of copying them into ChatGPT, so I didn't do that!

Anyway...

There are two ways a flying car network could go with the end version likely to be a hybrid. The first is fully autonomous flying cars that fly safe, predictable routes, much like public transport. So much so that you don't own a flying car yourself, or if you do, you never fly it manually.

The second way is semi autonomous flying cars. In this scenario the car is responsible for all safety features like not crashing into anything and making sure the vehicle lands well before it runs out of fuel or power but the driver can drive it anywhere under their own control.

There is no version of a flying car where you have full control of all systems. That would be too unsafe and dangerous in urban environments.


It Starts with a Network

Sixties Retro Style Flying Mini-Bus perhaps? - Image by TET & Leonardo.ai
Sixties Retro Style Flying Mini-Bus perhaps?
- Image by TET & Leonardo.ai
Every region would have a virtual street map of flying car 'roads'. These maps would consist of your traditional ground level streets that cars of any type still drive upon with full manual control just like we do now.

Above this map would be flying car road levels defined by altitude. For simplicity's sake let's say road level one is ten feet, road level two is 20 feet, three is 30 feet etc. to whatever altitude is needed to allow free traffic flow through each region. Less busy regions may only have level one altitude roads while really busy roads could have five to ten altitude levels.

The purpose of these levels is to create predictable routes of traffic flow rather than letting everyone fly around randomly at any level. You will be able to change levels during your journey much like you would change lanes on the freeway. More on that later.

Flying car roads will be monitored in real time using existing mobile/internet phone networks to collect data from local regions. Data would be passed to the network from vehicles in the region and vice versa.


How Cars Use the Network

Personal flying cars are semi autonomous. The network does not control their movement but it does track them and can disable a vehicle's movement if it deviates from the road system. i.e. force the vehicle into a hover or even land if it enters a no fly zone (or just not allow a vehicle to enter a no fly zone to begin with).

A more modern flying car with Tesla stylings - Image by TET & Leonardo.ai
A more modern flying car with Tesla stylings.
- Image by TET & Leonardo.ai
Vehicles themselves would always connect to the network when started up so they could collect data on local traffic flow and calculate an efficient route to wherever you wish to go. They would only download updated maps of the immediate section they're in and sections you intend to travel through rather than the whole network to save time.

Flying your car in urban environments would be mostly controlled by the car's AI which would constantly scan its immediate environment to avoid collisions and keep the vehicle on route. It would also be talking to the network, comparing its data on where vehicles on the network are reporting they are with what it is actually is seeing. Giving each vehicle at least two points of data to work with.

The human driver's main role is to stop and start the vehicle - as well as to determine the destination of travel (obviously). While the driver can stop and start the vehicle at any time the vehicle's AI will work to make sure this happens safely. You won't be able to come to a dead stop on a busy road level (five stories up). 


Going to the Countryside

A Retro Sixties car stacked on another Retro Sixties Car 'Flying' on the highway. - Image by TET & Leonardo.ai
A Retro Sixties car stacked on another Retro Sixties Car
'Flying' on the highway. That top car had to be 'flying'
at some point, right? I got so many images like this
from Leonardo.ai where its idea of a flying car
is just one car on top of another?
- Image by TET & Leonardo.ai
What's the point of having a car if you can't go on a road trip, or even off road altogether?

While the flying car network will likely mirror existing road systems, so you'll be able to connect wherever the network has coverage, you will sometimes need to travel 'off line'. Both technically and literally you'll be off roading.

Out of urban environments you'll have a lot more freedom to move around as you please. Your car will still handle all the necessary systems to keep you safe and prevent you from falling out of the sky but otherwise you'll have the most control of your vehicle you can have without a pilots license. 


Flying Cars - Easier to Drive Than Today's Cars

If you've read this far you'll be getting the sense that actually flying a flying car, particularly in an urban environment, will require next to no effort if you're just going from A to B and making no unscheduled stops along the way.

In many ways the flying experience will be positively boring so you'll want to fill your time with either something fun, relaxing, or productive.

But how different is that from how we drive now? 

I recently started driving again after several years of never needing to drive anywhere. As a passenger I usually just sit back and listen to the radio or talk a little with the driver (usually my partner, who I see a lot, so driving isn't exactly a catch up on all the gossip experience).

As a driver of an automatic (gearbox) vehicle I'm basically in charge of starting and stopping the car - and of course overall safety, not crashing, and trying not to be crashed into. It's not a particularly exciting role. To be honest I prefer driving manual gearbox cars just because there's a little more to do.

Aside from the independence driving affords I never really missed not driving myself. As a passenger I'm already conditioned for the flying car experience and I'll have independence without really needing anyone to drive me anywhere - since the car can do that itself.


We Still Need to Invent the Flying Car!

If you're doing star jumps on the roof of your flying car you may need some pointers on safety. - Image by TET & Leonardo.ai
If you're doing star jumps on the roof of your flying car
you may need some pointers on safety.
- Image by TET & Leonardo.ai
While I think I've made the case for how safe (and possibly a little boring) flying cars will be we still haven't invented a flying car that even remotely looks like your average daily driver that you'd fly to the supermarket.

While quadcopter style drones are the closest tech we have to something that could have a default mode of hovering in mid air, they're noisy, have too big of a footprint (or too small a space for a family of at least four), and there's a very real concern you could accidently start blending pedestrians in a busy urban setting.

One day someone may invent an actual anti-gravity drive - which is basically the pseudo science tech that most Sci-Fi movies are using to explain how everything from a speeder bike to a Starship Destroyer (if we use Star Wars as an analogy) can just float in mid air, within the atmosphere of a planet with Earth like gravity.

Until then, at least I hope I've given you some insight into how and why flying cars won't actually be dangerous and chaotic, and that they are a technology to look forward to... someday.

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