The car

All this and still no flying car? But, we have drones that fly and autonomous driving cars—cars that drive themselves.

I need my car. It always has lots of stuff in it, so it is sort of a giant purse. Now with the pandemic and retirement limiting my activities and need to travel, my car is sitting with storage insurance on it. I am even contemplating selling it and my wife and I would use only one car. Still, I have reservations as I don’t actually know what I may end up doing after the pandemic, if that ever comes. Our tentative plan is to actually sell both cars and go electric with an EV (electric vehicle), or a hybrid (combination gas and electric). We just don’t know when to take the leap because there are always improvements coming, as is the case with all technologies these days. I may suffer from separation anxiety when I do let go of my car. Still, the dream of packing some food and taking day trips in our EV together is quite inviting. Even more is my dream of getting an electric Jeep Wrangler when they come out sometime after the year 2025.

Have you ever wondered why the automobile, or car, was invented? It always seemed to me that, as so many machines were being developed and used during the Industrial Revolution, the natural step would be to make a horseless carriage. But why get rid of the horse? Horses had been the mainstay of transportation for thousands of years. Horses were reliable dedicated servants to humans.

As it turns out, there was a very serious reason—poop! That’s right. We have cars because of poop. Horses are fine in rural places out in the country, however, as more and more humans migrated to cities, they brought their horses with them, and the horses brought their poop. Oh, and let’s not forget pee. As the nineteenth century was coming to an end, so was the health of cities. The piles of poop and rivers of pee from thousands of horses… well, I’ll leave it there. If you need to know more, do your own safari. Suffice it to say, a city jungle solution was in dire need.

I have added a collage of photos to show the seriousness and a couple of resulting inventions which transformed the world. You can see in one photo a collapsed dead horse. Often these were left to rot for days before they could be dismembered and taken away. Indeed, this was a serious problem requiring a Technojungle solution.

Not long after we switched from the horse and carriage to the automobile, we humans became addicted to driving and getting to places quickly. People drove everywhere and soon there were traffic jams. More roads were needed and the existing ones, many originally built for horse and carriage, had to be enlarged and paved—hard on the horse hoofs (ouch!).

When I was young, I lived in Portland, Oregon. I remember going to many parades. My parents ensured we arrived in time so my sister and I could sit on the curb and grab candy thrown by clowns. I liked it when marching bands passed by. Often, preceding a band would be horses and you know what that meant. Yup, poop! So someone, usually another clown, would be pushing a cart and using a large shovel as a pooper scooper. It would not be a lovely sight to have a marching band trod… once again, I’ll leave it at that. I will mention that people, particularly my dad, would laugh and clap at the sight of the scooper.

For futurists, the sky seemed to hold the solution and they began to sell the idea of the personal flying car. It became a pretty potent promise in the 1959s and 60s, a dream, even an icon of the future—when you have a personal flying car, you will know that the future has arrived. If snarled traffic on the ground was a dystopia, floating in the sky would be the future utopia.

If you are a boomer, how do you remember the days of the promised flying car? Do you remember when cars had fins alluding to the notion that the flying car was just around the futuristic corner? Today, I notice we do have a few companies producing a version of the flying car. Have you heard of any flying cars being developed?

For futurists, the sky seemed to hold the solution and they began to sell the idea of the personal flying car. It became a pretty potent promise, a dream, even an icon of the future—when you have a personal flying car, you will know that the future has arrived.

I remember going with my dad to get gas for our car. The price was $0.25 per US gallon. Nobody even thought about an oil crisis and pollution. Super highways, like the Interstate highway system of the United States, were being built to crisscross the country like jungle paths, or vines for swinging on to get from place to place. We lived in Portland, Oregon and often drove the I-5 up to Vancouver British Columbia to visit relatives. But, as you can realize from the title here, this is not about gas, oil, or the highway system. 

In a time when road travel by car, and just as important for shipping products by truck, was becoming modernized and efficient, the dream of flying cars floated like a cloud somewhere on the horizon—a cloud waiting to be punctured by our flying car, soaring over the concrete jungles and Technojungles below.  

In my youth, I watched George Jetson, in the introduction to each cartoon episode, drop members of his family off one by one for the day and then land his flying car, which immediately folded up into a briefcase. Wow, what a concept—a car briefcase, or briefcar. No need to pay for expensive parking in a crowded parking lot. One of my favourite TV shows was called Supercar. It was done with marionettes and this car could not only fly, it could go under water too. In science fiction movies, utopian scenes of tall buildings with cars flying between them promised an outer space like calm and serene life of floating around in the sky. It was a peaceful promise.

Supercar was one of my favourite TV shows as a kid. Not only could it fly, it could go under water. The show was done with marionettes.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was a popular 1964 book by James Bond author Ian Fleming. In the 1968 it came to life in a movie musical. This vintage automobile was resurrected from junk by an inventor who claimed that certain things seemed to happen on their own while he was restoring the car. During the adventures of the car and its new family, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang demonstrated it could not only drive on roads, but on water and in the air, thus rescuing everyone from villains and saving the day.

Fifty to sixty years of flying car dreams later, oil crisis, defamation of pristine landscapes by concrete and pavement, air pollution causing global warming, climate change, and other serious issues; we seem to have progressed only slightly closer to the idea of the flying car. Does the illusive number one promise for the future seem to keep slipping away, seeming now like it will be another fifty years into the future?

A flying car, like the one depicted in the Star Wars movies that just seems to levitate above the ground, even when not in operation, has no supporting technology today that could lead to the development of such a machine. 

Is it possible to develop a flying car with today’s technology? To build a flying car, we would still have to resort to technology that was around fifty years ago. The vehicle would have to be like a helicopter with noisy rotor blades thrashing the air, possibly sucking birds in and spewing them out as mincemeat and feather tufts. The other alternative would be jets which would probably be even more dangerous and have pollution issues, not to mention out of the question fuel costs and other dangers.

Even if it were possible to invent a viable flying car, would issues regarding airspace prohibit them? These days small drones are available at a reasonable price. Drones have been discussed earlier in the book. As a reminder, I shall repeat a few of the points. 

Some companies make deliveries by drone, however airspace safety is an issue. These are small drones and probably only a few would be used. Drones would hopefully fly very low, below 200 feet to stay out of commercial airspace. However, where I live there are float planes taking off and landing in the harbour downtown, flying low and very close to office buildings and two bridges. Another problem with drones, as discussed earlier, is privacy. The main payload on non-military drones is a camera. From the earliest days of drone use, people began to report that their privacy was breached by a drone spying on them. Can you imagine if everybody was driving around in a flying car hovering near the windows of houses and buildings where unsuspecting people would suddenly see someone looking in at them? What would you think? Well, the car would have to be quiet enough so as to allow someone to sneak up on someone else—so much for human privacy.

I remember going with my dad to get gas for our car. The price was $0.25 per US gallon. Nobody even thought about an oil crisis and pollution. Super highways, like the Interstate highway system of the United States, were being built to crisscross the country like jungle paths, or vines for swinging on to get from place to place.

In 1965, it was apparent that flying cars were among the great inventions promised for the future, along with robots, large-scale space travel, automated homes, wrist watch video phones (Dick Tracy) and other fascinating Technojungle inspired ideas. Have you heard some of the common futuristic predictions delivered with pretty pink promises by futurists? Did they include some sort of disclaimer? How many times have you heard, “In the future, we will…”. Any disclaimers usually cover concerns regarding potential problems with lacking the necessary technology today. They are usually accompanied by notions that somehow science and technology will progress and necessary underlying technology will simply be available in the future.

Will we ever see flying cars? What we do have are autonomous self-driving vehicles that require no human participation or intervention. Even this sounds to me like it holds some hefty hurdles. 

First I heard about cars that had back up camera to make parking easier. Then came other assistive technologies, including cars that could park themselves. Which of these technologies have you used? 

A fully autonomous driving car that navigates in traffic involves the use of some pretty significant artificial intelligence and security. One simply sits back and lets a computer and the Technojungle navigate you around in traffic. The traffic will no doubt comprise a combination of vehicles that may or may not be under the control of a human. But, how would flying cars navigate with no roads in the sky? Would everybody just make a beeline to wherever they wish to go and simply hope that they see all the other traffic doing the same thing so they could avoid a crash? Could autonomous flying cars navigate with no roads for guidance? Does this sound like a Technojungle in the sky?

First we are seeing autonomous driving automobiles using AI, might we one day see autonomous governing governments and officials using AI.

Will there ever be a time when every vehicle on the road would be under the control of a smart machine of the Technojungle? What about collectors of old cars who dust them off on weekends to cruise around? How will they get along with the autonomous crowd? 

I see another huge problem. If we relinquish control of our vehicles to smart machines and are no longer maintaining our skills of operating a motor vehicle, what happens if for some reason a human does need to actually take back control? Our skills will have diminished. Never mind the car getting rusty from the elements, wouldn’t the humans get rusty from lack of practice and experience driving? I can imagine a human deciding, perhaps after months of not driving, to do some of their own driving. Suddenly this person who drives only occasionally, takes the wheel with some unsure results. Could human drivers one day be outlawed, since they could be dangerous? What do you think that would mean in other areas of our lives where a machine is deemed a better option than a human? Would investing funds to improve human drivers and reduce any conditions making a human driver dangerous in certain conditions be a better option?

Can you imagine if everybody was driving around in a flying car hovering near the windows of houses and buildings where unsuspecting people would suddenly see someone looking in at them?

Consider all the technology you can think of in your life. Is it 100 percent perfect 100 percent of the time? What about glitches? How about hackers and cyber-terrorists? Will autonomous driving vehicles ever be considered 100 percent safe and perfect? If not, what are the possible results of any failures? How will issues be resolved? What is this urge to get humans out of the driving seat leading us to? Remember, there is always the unexpected and there is always baggage. 

We want to make sure we don’t have this forced on us by corporations and governments before we are ready. We don’t want to adopt any technology without careful consideration for the future. Do you mind having to adapt your life without your consent? If this has to happen to your driving freedom, don’t you want to be able to appropriate it into your life on your terms? These concerns don’t seem to be getting an appropriate amount of attention. 

The progress of the autonomous driving automobile seem stalled at the time of this writing. There still seems to be technical issues, ethical issues when incidents occur, and people just don’t seem ready to trust the technology yet. Do you trust the technology? Do you think it might be mandated—forced on us?

We have just had a quick look at, and considered issues involving, vehicles on the horizontal plane. Do any of the issues concerning the autonomous driving car apply to flying cars? What are some other issues when we add to the mix vehicles on a vertical plane? How about when landing and taking-off? It is unlikely that runways would be used, so these cars would have to be capable of vertical take-off and landing. In some ways, I feel like we have painted ourselves into a corner and are stuck on the ground for some time to come. The issues are very complex.

There was a time when the idea of an electric car seemed to die and the culprit was likely the oil industry. Fortunately we are on track in the Technojungle for the electric car to over-take gas powered automobiles. Can we consider the development of electric cars as a step closer to a personal flying car since the weight of a tank of gas would be prohibitive? 

What will a personal flying car be like? What problems need to be addressed? They will probably only be able to carry one or two people, no other cargo. Battery weight will have to be reduced through new battery technologies. The electric motors will have to be quiet and very powerful. 

Can all this technology be developed and still be economical and affordable? An airline is affordable because it travels at a high speed over a long distance. Low speed and short distance increases the cost of operation. If you have to wait for somebody else to land before you can land when you arrive at your destination, your vehicle will have to hover using full thrust. A land-based vehicle simply idles. ‘No Hovering’ signs in the McDonald’s take-out line—McDonalds sitting on a cloud in the sky. It sounds like a dream for someone.

We want to make sure we don’t have this forced on us by corporations and governments before we are ready. We don’t want to adopt any technology without careful consideration for the future.

In the early days of the automobile, there were electric cars that were very good. However, the internal combustion engine became popular. Even beginning back in the days of Henry Ford, personal flying cars have been promised, designed and even prototypes made. A few personal flying cars might one day be possible, but imagine if most vehicles were to one day become electric and leave the roads and highways barren and desolate? If this happened rather suddenly, by that I mean within a few decades, what might happen to the oil industries and other industries related to the cars, roads and highways? It would be an economic and infrastructure collapse. Just more dilemmas of the Technojungle!

Futurists often point to the fact that travel by airplane is safer statistically than car travel. We need to keep in mind that it takes a huge expensive infrastructure of complex technology and highly trained personnel to make the airline industry so safe. Should we expect the operators of flying cars to become pilots? If flying cars are operated only by computers and the Technojungle, will that be 100 percent safe? Has anyone had their car stall? What happens when the car stalls? A flying car that stalls, will simply drop from the sky. Reducing that possibility would mean following the maintenance schedule of an airplane. Even then accidents would still happen. Can we expect the average person to follow the sort of maintenance plan that an airplane does? What about a collision? A mid-air collision would mean that the vehicles involved would simply drop from the sky. How would these vehicles manage in tight flying spaces, like near buildings, in wind or other weather turbulences? Should all flying cars be run by a corporation that would maintain them? So much for the idea and promise of the personal flying car.

When we drive our cars, we follow the rules of the road and rely extensively on signage to direct us. How would rules of the air work? Who has the right of way? Where would the signage be hung? Could everybody be trusted to follow the rules? OK, so isn’t this beginning to look like it will have to fall entirely in the realm of the Technojungle computers? Do we really want to completely give up human control? There goes the thrill of being at the controls and driving our personal flying car. Just too many dilemmas!

How could flying cars be utilized? I can see the possibility of making flying vehicles part of the public transit system utilizing small vehicles transporting one or two people like a taxi. When I look at traffic, by far the majority of it is commuters traveling to and from work places or special events. The number of cars on the road with only a driver going someplace where they will have to park amazes me. How many of these people would give up their car for a cheap individualized mode of transportation straight to their destination. Yes, I said individualized, or even carpools. This would be automated and part of the transit system. You would get picked up where you live, like a taxi, and dropped at your destination. That might work. Still the considerable obstacles I mentioned above would have to be addressed.

There’s one other type of car inventors have worked on—the floating boatcar, or carboat. Actually, these amphibian cars, or Amphicars, have actually been produced having been inspired by vehicles used during WW II. They don’t look very seaworthy, so a wave could easily swamp the interior of these convertible cars. 

I remember my friend’s parents purchased some beachfront property on Vancouver Island. We visited one day and I was absolutely fascinated by the method the neighbours were using to get to their boats anchored offshore. The beach was rocky, but not with boulders or jagged surfaces. They had converted cars so that they could drive them into the water. It was amazing.

If flying cars in the sky is too far of a distance, if not impossible, in the future, can we be satisfied with cars that can climb difficult terrain like a Jeep or a Sno-Cat? A company actually produced a Jeep-like vehicle that could even pull a waterskier. 

The automobile has become a symbol of wealth, power and freedom, in the Technojungle. Why do people like the idea of being in control of a technological machine and being able to go where they want when they want? The modern automobile is comfortable and powerful, with all manner of features and gadgets. People will drive somewhere to get a good price on a product and not factor in the cost of the car, including gas, maintenance and replacement. Never mind the cost to the environment and the human stress due to traffic and the impending dangers of driving. The perceived human freedom seems to cancel-out the added cost to many of our endeavours in the Technojungle.

The automobile has not changed much in its over 100 years of life, however it is becoming controlled by, and through the high-tech Technojungle. There have been some mechanical, design, and safety improvements along with plenty of features added, yet a car is still a carriage with an internal combustion engine that rolls on wheels. Our cars keep changing, yet the more they do, the more they stay the same. Do you now think the personal flying car, like the future, may never arrive, at least not as expected? What unforeseen baggage might it might bring? Is the car, for some people, part of what makes them human?

It’s the second larges expense for most people, so the car is important to consider as we learn about being better human beings and living in this world of technology—the Technojungle.

If the flying car was an icon for the future that would free us humans to fly wherever we wanted, when we wanted, perhaps the idea of special lanes for autonomous driving cars and bike lanes, sandwiching the human driven cars somewhere in-between is an analogy for all human life. Humanity is always being sandwiched between the high-tech Technojungle computer controlled life in society and the low-tech Technojungle life. One of the byproducts of driving a car is of concern besides traffic. 

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