Why We Don’t Have Flying Cars, Yet

January 23, 2010 · Posted in innovation, prediction 

We won’t have flying cars until we have ground-based cars that drive themselves.

Any particular innovation must achieve all the required Outcomes to satisfy the overall desire. One of the essential outcomes of transportation is arriving safely. Making a small mistake while flying is a lot more dangerous than when driving. Over 37,000 fatal vehicle accidents happen in the USA every year. Almost all of those car accidents are the result of some kind of human error. Until you can prevent the human errors in ground-based cars you can’t do it in air cars.

Innovation follows predictable paths. Trying to jump ahead increases the cost and difficulty by an order of magnitude. In other words, you must walk before you run. Its not entirely true that you can’t skip ahead, but it usually is technologically expensive and the market just isn’t ready.

It might seem like disruptive innovations drastically change things but when you more closely examine the improvements they are just the next logical step. In “Is Automotive Industry Dead or Just Stuck” my associate, Len Kaplan, explains how improving safety will lead to the next generation more efficient, more affordable, and more desirable cars. Len lays out each step for all the technological improvements to arrive at the next paradigm of cars.

A flying car must be lightweight. Except for using extremely expensive exotic materials you can’t make a flying car light and strong enough to survive a crash. The best way to avoid damage is to avoid crashing.

Car companies with a lot of push from government have been focusing on fuel efficiency. Consumers have consistently chosen vehicles they perceived to be safe over fuel-efficient vehicles. The boom of SUV sales was heavily motivated by safety concerns. So consumers are saying safety is the under served desire. If you look at accident statistics for the past 14 years, you see safety has not improved.

Government has been pushing car manufacturers to produce alternative energy cars. But serious technology problems stand in the way of making alternative energy cars viable. There is a technology gap and a consumer demand gap. Alternative energy is a future step but it’s not the next step. The next step in cars is crash avoidance.

Cars today are safer in a crash than ever before. But annual deaths from car accidents in the USA have remained over 37,000 for the past 14 years. Why are cars getting safer in a crash but deaths remain the same? In 2007, 2.5 million people were injured in vehicle accidents. There is only so much you can do to make a car crash safe. As long as the number of car crashes remains high deaths and injuries will remain high.

Prevent the crash, prevent injuries and save lives. Conveniently, the things that prevent crashes also increase fuel efficiency. Plus, the natural progression of crash avoidance also leads to electric cars.

So that leads us back to flying cars. Until the technology is developed to prevent accidents on the ground, flying cars will remain too expensive and too dangerous for average drivers.

When will we have flying cars? We will have flying cars when we have cars that drive themselves.