The much-anticipated "flying car" from MIT spinout Terrafugia Inc. had its first test flight on March 5. Apparently, all went well, although there is still a lot of work ahead.
My first thought was "this is awesome!" The recurring dream we've all been told about--and have probably read about as "coming soon" in antique copies of Popular Mechanics from the 1950s--may be closer to becoming reality. New materials, improved electronics and innovative techniques have made possible the achievement of that dream
But then the rest of my brain got engaged and said, "Get real, what are you thinking?" Do we want the typical driver, who barely pays attention to the two-dimensional roadway, piloting a small plane?
Sure, there will be all sorts of cockpit aids such as autopilot and GPS among other enhancements. But I'm still afraid that the pilots--excuse me, let's call them "drivers in the air"--will be yapping on their cell phones, texting, cutting over and around other flying cars.
On the ground, we have firm rules of the road saying "you can't do this". Still, police hand out a lot of tickets to misbehaving car drivers, don't they? And how will they pull the flying car over for violations?
Our ability to innovate needs a reality check: What is really worth doing, rather than what is possible? It's hard enough to anticipate the impact of our innovations since the Law of Unintended Consequences is as firm as the laws of physics.
Sometimes, you can see what will happen with fairly high confidence. A flying car may be a great technology demonstrator, but having the average automobile driver take to the air seems like a very bad idea.
While we are at it, let's expand the definition of technological progress beyond the flying car. The personal "jet pack" of James Bond fame is making a comeback, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.
The sky is getting crowded.