And yet, clickbait articles abound, claiming that this technology is only a few years away. In a way, it is kind of charming, how mankind, and in particular, Americans, put so much faith in technology. Scotty's transporter beam, on Star Trek, can only be a few years away as well, right?
Well, when it comes to science fiction, never confuse a plot device with futurism. Science fiction shows and movies posit there is "artificial gravity" in the future simply because it is a lot easier to shoot on a set here on Earth than to try to simulate zero-gee. The "transporter beam" on Star Trek was one such plot device. It was a lot easier and cheaper to just "beam people down" to a planet, than to have elaborate shuttle-craft shots. Of course, the special effects for the "beam" itself proved expensive, so later in the series, they would just show Kirk entering the transporter room - and then a quick cut to the planet surface.
Every good science fiction story has a laser, phaser, or "death ray". In the 1930's in particular, it was always "rays" of one form or another - atomic rays, or heat rays or whatnot. This doesn't mean these things will exist in the future. Sure we have lasers - in your mouse or remote control even. But you aren't blasting through steel doors with them or making aliens go "poof" anytime soon- at least not with some handheld device. Don't confuse fiction with reality.
Similarly, flying cars are often used as props in movies and on TeeVee, as they are "futuristic" and the "next logical stage" in the development of the automobile, right? You can't just show a boring old car on a SciFi show - it has to fly! That's how the audience will be keyed in that this is "the future" - right? Again, don't confuse a science fiction trope with reality.
Would I like to see flying cars? Sure, that would be cool. Although I am not sure I could get Mr. See into one. I've manged to wedge him into some bi-planes on occasion, but he does have a fear of heights. He does this in spite of his fears, and to appease me. But I am not sure he would be comfortable in a flying car, on a regular basis. And I suspect a lot of other people would have similar problems with it as well. Although perhaps a new generation, raised on flying cars, would get used to the effect. But it illustrates there are more than technical issues at stake - there are social and political ones as well.
But quite frankly, I don't see it. The costs are too staggering and the efficiency very, very low, And even with autonomous controls, accidents will happen, and a flying car crashing into Times Square would injure and kill a whole lot of people. And would people really accept a new reality with flying cars constantly buzzing overhead? Flying at eye-level with the people in adjacent office buildings? Some folks, I think, might object.
No, I think we need to chalk this one up to "ain't happening anytime soon" despite all the hype and hoopla.
UPDATE: A reader points out that I missed two huge problems with flying cars: noise and blast.
Airplanes are noisy, that is true. Reducing airport noise has been an ongoing concern for the last several decades. People (including a former neighbor of mine in Virginia) have the airport noise complaint line on speed-dial, and will call in whenever they feel there is "too much" noise from a passing jet.
Helicopters and other vertical lift devices are even noisier - they have to be at maximum thrust during takeoffs and landings. We have military helicopters do touch-and-goes at our little airport here on the island. Most of us think it is pretty cool, even if they do fly over the house, sometimes late at night. Others are less enthused.
Now imagine Uber electric octo-copters taking off and landing in your neighborhood, 24 hours a day - every time someone wants to go somewhere. It would be unworkable. On the plus side, the lawn guy's leaf blower wouldn't seem so bad in comparison.
And no, you couldn't have an Uber "airport" to drive to - that would defeat the whole point of the flying car - point-to-point transportation. Not only that, do you know how hard it is to permit a new airport these days? Small general aviation airports are being turned into condominium developments at a rapid clip as it is!
In the cities, the noise factor would be horrendous - with these flying cars jumping from rooftop to rooftop. Yes, we can deal with the occasional helicopter today, because they are occasional - they are so darn expensive, only a few rich people or organizations can afford to operate them. But flying cars or taxis - for everyone? It wouldn't work - not even if they were limited to even just the moderately wealthy.
But speaking of leaf blowers, the thrust from these vertical-lift devices would also be horrendous. Land one in your back yard, and watch your lawn furniture get blown into the pool. Sure, some rich guy can land his helicopter on the lawn of his vacation home - he owns hundreds of acres of land. But for the rest of us? Simply unworkable.
The blast issue would be less of a problem, perhaps, for these proposed rooftop landing zones. But in order for this air taxi or flying car to work, you have to have a place to fly to. And the places you fly to, would have to have some sort of safe landing zone free of obstructions and far enough away from neighbors who might complain about the noise.
So the idea of taking your flying flivver to work every day, is, well, a wee bit overstated.
The point of this is (and I did have one) the whole "flying car concept" thing is a prime example of the over-exuberance Americans have for "the next big thing!" technology. We are convinced that if we throw enough investment money at something, it will happen. And many people have thrown money at this idea - and many others have been willing to catch it.