Back to the Future promised us flying cars in October, 2015. Have I missed them? Maybe I don't look up from my iPhone enough. But seriously, why don't we have flying cars already? — Tyler, Calgary
Where we're going, we probably need roads.
"Sure, you can make a flying car—they've shown up at auto shows every once in a while—but they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars," says futurist Michael Rogers in an email. "But what you get, for a lot of money, is a car that doesn't work very well and an airplane that doesn't work very well."
Rogers calls flying cars "catnip for futurists" — for decades, there have been predictions that we're just a few years away from one in every driveway.
The Back to the Future series showed us a flying DeLorean from 2015.
So, 30 years later, where's our Don Valley Skyway?
Flights of fancy?
In 2014, Toyota announced that it was working on a vehicle that would hover just barely above the road to reduce road friction. In 2012, Volkswagen released a video of a prototype maglev car floating off the ground — but that was CGI, not a real car.
Meanwhile, at least three companies say they are working on flying cars.
Aeromobil's prototype crashed earlier this year, but both companies say its planes should be delivered to customers by 2017.
Dutch company PAL-V is taking pre-orders in Europe for a €299,000 ($441,000) car-gyrocopter hybrid.
"Users will need a Gyrocopter pilot license, which requires 30-45 hours of training," says PAL-V CEO Robert Dingemanse in an email. "It is the easiest and safest way of flying and it is great fun to learn — the vehicle will be allowed for normal road use."
Meet George Jetson?
Futurist Richard Worzel says the biggest roadblocks keeping flying cars from taking off are regulations, cost and practicality.
"There are already amphibious cars, but they were never popular because they're complex, expensive, temperamental, and of limited use," says Worzel in an email. "I wonder if, contrary to what the Terrafugia website indicates, whether the (Ministry of Transportation) and the (Federal Aviation Administration) will allow a pilot who doesn't know how to fly at the controls, even with sophisticated computer controls."
Rogers says some futurists ("rightly embarrassed by the no-show status of the flying car") are saying flying cars will be smart and self driving by the 2030s. The idea is that self flying cars wouldn't need regulations.
But Rogers thinks self-driving cars aren't right around the corner, let alone flying ones.
"I don't expect truly autonomous cars to be available for general usage until the early Twenties at the soonest," Rogers says. "And again, an autonomous flying car is a 3D navigation problem, not 2D."
Sci-fi's flying cars typically float off the ground without a rail or guideway. In Back to the Future, Marty McFly's hoverboard floats too.
In 2015, we can't actually do that. Although, we do have a two-wheel scooter called a hoverboard that doesn't actually hover. And, we've got another Kickstarter-funded hoverboard with a prototype that apparently floats on a special metal surface. Earlier this year, Lexus made one too.
"Now, there's one breakthrough technology that could change all this: an effective antigravity device — of course, we don't even understand gravity on a theoretical level at this point, so antigravity might take a little longer," Rogers says. "On the other hand, 150 years ago we didn't have a realistic theory of electricity either, and we've done pretty well with it since then."
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