First it was the electric car. Then the self-driving car. Now it’s the flying car.
What once was relegated to the realm of science fiction is now becoming reality with news that U.S.-based aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co. (NYSE:BA) is planning to develop flying cars for purchase by consumers.
“I think it will happen faster than any of us understand,” said Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg, who is already plotting what he calls the rules of the road for three-dimensional sky highways. “Real prototype vehicles are being built right now. So the technology is very doable.”
Autonomous air taxis and parcel-hauling drones have the potential to be the next disruption to sweep the aerospace industry, with Boeing and its European rival Airbus SE among the manufacturers racing to stake a claim to this fledgling new industry.
Mr. Muilenburg sees it as a rare opening to shape a new transportation ecosystem. Fleets of self-piloted craft could be hovering above city streets and dodging skyscrapers within a decade, he said. Propelling these advances are a flood of investment, rapid gains in autonomy, and growing consumer frustration with bumper-to-bumper traffic.
While the idea of flying vehicles is intriguing, it is worth noting that neither electric cars nor self-driving vehicles have taken hold with the public the way that manufacturers had hoped. How eager consumers will be to take to the skies in a car remains to be seen.
Still, optimism abounds.
Electric passenger drones, seating up to five travellers and looking like distant cousins of helicopters, could come on the market within the next two years, according to a new study by Deloitte. By the early 2020s, the study said, flying cars could drive to the airport by roadways and then accelerate down runways into the sky. Even NASA is studying the feasibility of what the government space agency calls “urban air mobility.”
But if any of these technologies are to truly take root, regulators must first figure out a host of critical safety issues, starting with how to manage both conventional traffic and new flying machines.
“It won’t be all turned on in one day,” concedes Mr. Muilenburg.