May 26, 2020

Brave New World/Up in the Air

Rehoboth Ramblings


Flying cars – does the very idea cause you to say “That would be cool” or “God help us all!” Flying cars have been a staple of science fiction for years. Those of us of a certain age will recall the old TV cartoon show with the Jetsons jetting around in their personal aircraft.

The headline in the business section of a recent Providence Journal read “Relief on the horizon: self-flying cars”. Relief? Yes, we’re talking about flying cars without human pilots, though considering the driving habits of people in these parts perhaps self-flying cars would be safer than the average driver/pilot.

If you have been stuck in traffic on 195 West with the recent bridge repair work or any other massive traffic jam, you have certainly fantasized about being able to rise above everyone else and fly away from the mess below. Note that this fantasy involves YOUR car being the only flying car around; the other poor saps are stuck on the highway as you make your getaway.

According to the newspaper article (which first appeared in the LA Times) at the first Congressional hearing on this topic it was made clear “that urban flying vehicles will pose of new set of challenges beyond the autonomous vehicles now being tested on city streets.” You don’t say! Auto accidents are horrific enough now; imagine an airborne accident with pieces of flaming vehicles falling on the hapless people below.

The newspaper article has a photo of a flying car called a Transition from a Massachusetts company called Terrafugia. Check out their website for more details. Their clever motto is “We’re driven to fly” and their name is from the Latin for Escape the Earth, more or less. They say they plan to release this vehicle next year for $400,000 so it’s not for everyone, which is some relief. 

Uber has shown some interest and plans to conduct test flights of flying taxis in Dallas and Los Angeles in 2020 with possible commercial services starting within five years. We shall see. I’m not sure what sort of distance this new type of hybrid is designed for but it sounds as though it’s meant for shorter jaunts. Also no word on how much a ride on one of these flying cars might be, but I bet it costs more than taking the bus or car-type Uber.

Down here on the highways, it appears that use of ride-sharing cars has only increased road congestion. While Uber and Lyft have attracted big city commuters who don’t want to drive, they have also attracted a large number of people who would otherwise use public transportation. Considering what I’ve heard about transit woes in Boston, this really shouldn’t be surprising.

Perhaps I could be talked into trying out a driverless car as long as the trial drive was on a quiet back road, but going up in a little mini-plane without a pilot? No way. Whatever its many problems may be, I don’t want to escape the Earth, at least not permanently just yet.
As if flying cars aren’t enough, now we have billionaires eager to send people, at least some very wealthy people, into space. Would you be willing to sign up for a trip to Mars? I can think of people I’d like to send on a one-way trip to Mars, but I sure don’t want to be a space explorer.

When it comes to colonizing other planets, I agree with Elton John: “Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids”. Sadly there are many places on our own planet that aren’t the kind of place to raise kids either. Yes, I get that all the fancy space technology sounds very exciting to adventurous types, but I’m far from the only one asking if people who truly have way more money than they know what to do with could turn more attention to making life on Earth better.

As I mull these thoughts over in late August, I spot another headline in the Providence Journal: “195 delays likely to get worse”. Oh joy. Maybe I was too hasty about those flying cars.


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