We Finally Got Our Flying Cars, and Now We Don’t Want Them

July 11, 2017

2:30 pm

Autonomous passenger drones are essentially flying cars. And they’re now being tested in Dubai, where project leaders hope the devices will account for a quarter of all travel by 2030.

The American retrofuture has been about 80 percent “flying car” for decades now. It’s become a rallying cry for those who wish the present were more like the future that the past imagined. “I wanted flying cars, and I got a Snapchat filter that turns me into a hotdog wearing headphones?!” they tweet. But now that we’ve got the flying cars, no one wants them.

Just 5 Percent of Americans Would Feel Safe in a Drone

The news comes via research from YouGov, CNBC reports:

“According to a report released Friday, only a quarter of U.S. adults had even heard of passenger drones – unmanned aerial vehicles capable of transporting people from one location to another. […]

More worryingly, more than half of U.S. adults surveyed said they would feel unsafe flying in a passenger drone, with 54 percent saying they wouldn’t feel safe. Only 5 percent said they would feel safe.”

The drones in question, which have already begun test flying in Dubai this month, are also called Autonomous Aerial Vehicles (AAV). They can be programmed to understand a city’s geography, and can carry about 220 pounds, the equivalent of a single person and a suitcase, along a set route from point A to point B.

What’s Missing? A Sense of Control

So what went wrong between 1950s daydreams of cruising to work at the steering wheel of a flying car and the reality that we can soon be doing just that? The steering wheel part.

If the typical human is not in control of a speeding vehicle, they’ll feel helpless. Throw in a fear of heights, and you’ll have a hard time convincing people that an AAV is the flying car they’ve always wanted. It doesn’t align with the facts — once up and running, AI-powered vehicles are far safer than the ones powered by human brains — but that doesn’t enter into the equation.

But as the flying car races heat up — Airbus, UberTerrafugia, and Volvo have all done their part — and autonomous passenger drones actually become reality, expect to see them take over anyway. We might be scared of them, and they might not fulfill our escapist fantasies, but we still need to get to work on time.

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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