Flying Cars Are Stupid

Flying Car Graphic

I was up this morning bright and early and started sifting through my twitter feed as I usually do, and one story that stuck out was an article from the Economist about the rate of innovation. In it the writer mentions Peter Thiel’s disappointment over the pace of innovation and seeks to refute this claim and the related claims of technological pessimists everywhere. Specifically Thiel mentions the example of flying cars. After years of conceptualizing and dreaming about them they still haven’t become a mass consumer product. Whenever I hear complaints like Thiel’s, the courtroom scene from A Few Good Men pops into my head. It’s a crude analogy, but it’s an entertaining caricature of why some technology comes to fruition faster than others. There’s a very good reason we don’t have flying cars. We want flying cars, but we can’t handle flying cars. We just aren’t ready.

There are a number of reasons why I believe this. First off, people are terrible drivers. In 2007 the WHO (No relation to the ’60s rockband) released a report on drinking & driving using data from the early 2000’s. In it the rough estimates state that almost 40% of fatal crashes in Canada involved alcohol, a world leading figure. Slovenia came in 2nd at exactly 35% and the ever competitive US of A was a close 3rd at just under 35%. I’m no transportation expert but those figures don’t exactly instill me with confidence in the ability of the masses to drive safely on the ground much less fly in the air. While often quoted statistics have shown that you have a better chance of dying in a car crash compared to an airplane crash, the statistics fail to include the caveat that most airplanes are flown by trained by pilots with years of training and experience.

Second, it’s not practical. The airline industry is losing money through the teeth trying to keep up with rising fuel costs. The average consumer constantly complains when prices at the pumps increase by a even a fraction of a cent. Does anyone really think they’ll be able to afford jet fuel on a regular basis? Don’t even think about electric flying cars, the size of the battery needed to keep even the smallest flying vehicle in flight for enough time would probably take up a one or two car garage. When you also factor in the possible insurance costs of all those terrible drivers IN THE AIR you might as well scrap the idea all together.

When Henry Ford made his now famous remark about people wanting faster horses instead of cars, it has become extremely prescient. The same people that want flying cars, don’t own hovercrafts, or jetpacks, or use hang gliders to go to work. They use regular cars just like everybody else because cars still work. When technological pessimists and their ilk make claims that the rate of innovation has plateaued they often fail to look at the actual problem. What problem would flying cars solve? When you look at the US military and its astounding portfolio of bionic organs, laser guns, and invisibility cloaks, you realize they have these things because the corporations selling them these things all have a simple focus on the problems they’re addressing.

In my opinion the US military, yes the military, beats out every major corporation or organization on innovation because they have two basic goals, How do we defeat the enemy and how do we prevent them from defeating us. Every major technology the US military funds can be connected back to these two goals. This is exactly what American inventor Richard Gatling said his goal was when he created his famous gun, and it’s what the US military still does to this day. Angry your military assaults keep failing from lack of communication? Internet is created. Tired of losing highly trained pilots? Drones are created. Ashamed your enemies weapons capabilities are as good as yours? Better start making those ray guns! While I can’t condone the collateral damage that comes from military technology, you have to admire the US military’s ability to create an innovation process unrivalled by any other organization. (As an aside during WW2 Germany far outpaced the US in military advancement, but many of those innovations never made it to the battlefield, something the US military is exceptionally good at.) Just 10 years ago few in the US military industrial complex could have imagined that they might be on the cusp of a human-less airforce, but that’s the future they’re facing.

If you want my advice (it’s ok if you don’t), take Henry Ford’s advice. Look at the model for innovation and adoption the US military has been employing for decades. Find a big problem, focus intensely on solving it, and don’t sweat the small stuff. Innovation is often early and rarely late, but adoption is always right on time. As I type this, companies are working on technology that can make this possible. Self-driving cars will lead to the possibility of self flying vehicles without human error. Scientists are working on creating engines that generate greater amounts of energy. Cars like the BMW A6 are inching closer to the aerodynamic shape of vehicles that are made to fly. That’s all well and good. However, my guess is that somewhere along the way, some smart individual will create a better mode of transportation than just a car that flies, just like Henry Ford mass produced a vehicle that wasn’t just a faster horse.

Peter Thiel wants flying cars. I get it lots of people want flying cars too. When the meme started in the 50s it was cool but, someday, sometime in the future, society will look back on our present time and laugh at our ridiculous infatuation with the idea of bulky Ford trucks, flimsy Tatas, and loud Lamborghini’s careening through the air. For our society’s future reputation let’s look at the bigger picture in all aspects of progress. Let’s forget flying cars. Flying cars are stupid.

Share this:

Posted in Modu Thinks | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment