March 28 2008 / by futuretalk
Category: Transportation Year: Beyond Rating: 13 Hot
By Dick Pelletier
In the sci-fi movie Minority Report cars drive themselves while maneuvering through traffic on roads and in the sky. Though the film represents a more distant future, safe and affordable driverless cars could be on roads everywhere by 2020, and self-driving/flying air-cars by 2030.
Scientists are now developing next generation driverless cars that understand and react to the world around them. These “smart” vehicles have been tested in recent competitions sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
Competing cars were not only driven entirely by computers, but they operated in a simulated city environment. Stanford University’s Dr. Sebastian Thrun explains the DARPA challenge; “Driverless cars successfully maneuvered through busy streets and intersections. They recognized other cars, and interacted safely when they met – all without human help.”
“Today’s driverless cars can go about 100 miles before human assistance becomes necessary,” Thrun says, “by 2010 this will increase to 1,000 miles, by 2020 a million miles; and by the 2030s, driverless cars will surpass human drivers in both safety and reliability.”
Driverless vehicles promise huge benefits. The Department of Transportation projects 500 million cars worldwide by 2010 with unbearable congestion everywhere. Self-driving cars always maintain proper distances at maximum speeds; and this optimizes road capacity. By 2020, we’ll say goodbye to gridlock, road rage, and most traffic deaths.
In 1937, Wright Brothers rival Glenn Curtiss was the first to design a realistic flying car. It flew through the air at 112 mph and drove on the ground at 56 mph. But this futuristic vehicle crashed often and developers decided to shelve the idea. Today, the following companies are rushing to develop their idea of the perfect air-car:
• StrongMobile Magic Dragon – boasts an automobile-type fuselage and suspension system. This vehicle is aimed at business travelers.
• LaBiche Aerospace FSC-1 – can park in garages and tight spaces. Developers hope to provide “door-to-door” travel, but safety concerns require a parachute with the system.
• Haynes Aero Skyblazer – uses a turbofan engine to provide air thrust and generate electricity that powers the motor. It flies at 400 mph with a range of 830 miles.
• Moller Skycar – is a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft that can only fly from airports and heliports. Future plans include taking off and landing at parking lots and private properties.
• X-Hawk – another VTOL aircraft operates like a helicopter but without exposed rotors which make helicopters dangerous. It’s expected to arrive by 2010, but costs a whopping $3 million.
• Transition – developed by MIT alums, allows drivers to enfold or extend the wings by pushing a button in the cockpit. Priced at $148,000, sales could begin as early as 2009.
Today’s flying cars are little more than an elaborate engineering dream, but by 2030, the number-crunching ability of quantum computers and exponentially-advancing artificial intelligence is expected to bring the dream of pilotless aircraft to maturity. But with large numbers of self-driving/flying air-cars crowding the skies, we will certainly need an improved air traffic control system to guarantee 100 percent human safety.
Will this “magical future” happen? Former NASA director Dennis Bushnell believes that “computerized driving systems will impact with society like cars did to the horse and buggy.” Driverless cars will be commonplace by 2020, and self-flying air-cars by 2030.