Stop calling them flying cars

“Uber unveils plan to demo flying cars by 2020,” the CNN headline blares. “No longer a dream: Silicon Valley takes on the flying car,” the New York Times says. Even an esteemed publication like The Atlantic couldn’t resist: “When cars fly,” a recent headline ponders. Even we did it — albeit in quotes.

Stop. Stop it right now. We need to stop calling these things “flying cars.” There is no such thing as flying cars. And I say this as someone guilty of taking this rhetorical shortcut myself. But I’m not sure quotation marks are enough anymore.

What we’re really talking about is, well, a bunch of different stuff that flies. At it’s Elevate conference in Dallas today, Uber is talking about a network of on-demand, electrically powered, multi-rotor vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicles. Google co-founder Larry Page’s company Kitty Hawk appears to be working on something more akin to an aquatic hoverbike than a flying car. So you can see why a lot of media outlets are using “flying car” as a workaround. Ask yourself: are you more likely to click on a story that says “e-VTOL” or “aquatic hovercraft” in the headline, or “flying car”?

Flying cars, of course, are ridiculous. Wild-eyed inventors have been pursuing the idea for decades, with little to show for it. Many have gone broke, and some have died, trying to turn their fever dreams into reality. The AVE Mizar, pictured at the top, was basically a Ford Pinto with a section of a Cessna Skymaster attached to the roof. During a test flight in 1973, the vehicle crashed, resulting in the death of the vehicle’s inventors.

It’s when they began to grace the covers of magazines like Popular Mechanics and Popular Science that the idea of flying cars became a stand-in for some distant, unattainable future. Those images no doubt inspired many of the flying cars in popular culture we remember best, like The Jetsons, Back to the Future, and Star Wars. They were the magazine covers that launched a thousand nerd fantasies.

“I hate it,” said Mark Moore, the former NASA engineer who now works at Uber, when I asked him how he feels about the terminology. “We’re not driving on the road. I mean, these are much closer to commercial aircraft than anything else that’s being done. They’re just a much smaller size.”

This wouldn’t be the first time we’ve screwed up by apply the wrong name to a certain technology. The Verge pushed back against the use of “hoverboard” to describe self-balancing scooters, but ultimately we lost that battle. Now we find ourselves in the middle of a new battle over nomenclature. And perhaps because the electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft we’re talking about are just now starting to appear, there’s still time to turn the tide against “flying cars.”

The technology that has Silicon Valley and the aerospace industry so fired up isn’t anything particularly new. Thanks to new innovations like digital controllers, semi-autonomous fly-by-wire systems, and more powerful battery technology, the idea of smaller, quieter, faster, and more efficient aircraft is closer to reality than ever.

“All of the sudden we’ve been given a new widget,” Moore said. “And we have all the sorts of ways to try to use it. So it just opens up the design space to create these new vehicles to do these new things that we’ve been wanting to do for 50 years, but we simply didn’t have the technology to do it.”

But there are many things about flying cars that make them impractical, unworkable, and even wrongheaded. Airspace restrictions, noise issues, and safety concerns are just some of the problems that Uber, Kitty Hawk, and others will run into as they attempt to bring their ideas into the mainstream. Additionally, these aircraft don’t solve any problems for normal human beings, nor do they even gesture toward a meaningful impact in the distant future. Supporters site traffic congestion and the daily hassle of getting around as enough of a motivation. But is that enough of a reason to pursue an idea that could have unforetold consequences on our cities?


its either a car or a plane..not both..

“Stop. Stop it right now. We need to stop calling these things “flying cars.” There is no such thing as flying cars. And I say this as someone guilty of taking this rhetorical shortcut myself. But I’m not sure quotation marks are enough anymore.”

fake news in your face..


~ by seeker401 on May 1, 2017.

One Response to “Stop calling them flying cars”

  1. Reblogged this on World4Justice : NOW! Lobby Forum..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: