What’s stopping us from having flying cars?
Science fiction has made us a number of promises that it seems real world scientists have no intention of keeping. Where are our consumer hoverboards, children of the 80s have been known to cry. Where are our jet packs? Where are our flying cars?
Well, we might have a surprise for you on that last one. Various companies and entrepreneurs have been attempting to bring flying cars to a consumer market for decades, and the technology to do so has been around for quite a while. However, the biggest obstacles aren't to do with wind resistances and weight ratios, but how our systems, laws and attitudes would have to change to accommodate flying cars - and whether we'd even want them to. Scrap Car Network has explored the problems facing flying cars in full detail, but we'll sum them up for you by covering some of the biggest.
How we'll need to change our cities
Flying cars will more closely resemble helicopters than planes - some current prototypes look like scaled-up versions of consumer drones. Right now, our towns and cities aren't built to accommodate them, and massive changes are necessary before they can. You wouldn't be able to park one in a traditional space at a supermarket, at least not to start with, so they'll need landing pads in strategic locations. (Runways won't be necessary, thankfully.)
Another thing that flying cars will have in common with drones is that they'll be electrically powered, but in order to achieve any sort of respectable distances, they'll need high-capacity batteries which are currently far out of reach of the consumer market. They'll also need charging points to top up these batteries.
There are other practical considerations, too. For safety reasons, they'll need to stick to pre-approved flight corridors, but who's responsible for making sure they do that? In other words, will they need some form of human air traffic control? What training will those staff need? What safety measures or early warnings systems will be in place if a flying car stalls? Right now, most of these are questions with no clear answers!
How we'll need to change our laws
As hybrid vehicles, flying cars occupy a curious grey area in British law. Both the automotive and aerospace industries have very strict requirements of the vehicles they oversee, and designers will somehow have to account for two separate sets of regulations (which aren't always compatible). Once the flying cars are built, there's the similar matter of who oversees them. Right now, the DVLA is responsible for regulating cars, and the Civil Aviation Authority handles civilian planes and helicopters. Whose remit does a flying car fall under? Either way, due to the drastically differing rules for the air and the road, all flying car drivers will almost certainly have to hold a private pilot's licence in addition to their normal photocard ID.
Lawmakers will have to work out how flying cars are registered, and who keeps track of them. They'll also have to work out which driving rules apply to flying cars, and which aviation rules they also have to abide by. They also have to make decisions on which current laws flying cars aren't able to obey, and possibly formulate new rules for them instead.
How we'll need to change our attitudes
Arguably, this will be perhaps the biggest obstacle that flying cars have to overcome. Everyone likes the idea of flying cars in theory, but having the reality hurtling above our heads is very different. However many scenarios that designers account for, and however many safety measures they put in place, the fact remains that they will never completely eliminate the possibility of an accident. Accidents on the road can be scary, but accidents in the air can be especially devastating.
Many people in Glasgow still remember the helicopter crash of 2013, which left over 40 people dead and injured. Even more recently, a 2018 helicopter crash in Leicester left no survivors, and the incident shocked the nation. Now, it's true that these incidents are rare, but they leave a lasting impression. Both involved vehicles designed purely for the air, with all the associated failsafes, and even they're not immune to accidents. Can flying cars claim to be otherwise?
Let's not forget that the risk multiplies exponentially with every new flying car that takes to the skies. Tech mogul Elon Musk had a point when he said that "Even in autopilot, and even if you've got redundant motors and blades, you've still gone from near-zero chance of something falling on your head to something greater than that."
Finally, flying cars are also facing an even more unpredictable problem - the shape and direction of modern society is fast outpacing their core concept. Many physical journeys are being made redundant by online services and digital technologies, for example, and the growing climate crisis means there are significant environmental concerns surrounding the manufacture and disposal of lithium batteries (their current proposed power source).
With the massive structural changes that flying cars demand, and the global transport and aviation authorities already struggling to adapt to the climate change crisis, that leaves us with the question - will flying cars ever have time to really get off the ground?