Earlier this year, Uber and Bell technologies announced a partnership which could bring us flying taxis. Bringing us one step closer to living in a science fiction movie. Bell sees “air taxis” as the future. In fact, they believe that this will be possible by 2025. Is that even a possible date? I mean, companies are always promising flying cars, but when this will happen is anyone’s guess (including the companies), which is why this date might not mean anything.
Patrick Moulay, executive vice president for commercial helicopter sales, told Bloomberg this in an interview:
“Air taxi is the next way for our industry, and it’s very important for us to make sure we are among the disrupters to think about what should be transportation in the next 10-20 years. We’re not going to see a taxi flying tomorrow, but it’s much closer than what people think.”
I like the forward thinking aspect of it, but the one thing that we don’t hear a lot about when discussing these aspirations is infrastructure. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the concept of a flying car. Which means, less infrastructure is needed. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t have to change the ways that we build cities. So why aren’t cities involved in this development? Especially, if they’re only about 7 years off.
Government is notoriously slow with anything and everything. So a 7-year time frame isn’t going to be enough to make any changes that would allow flying cars in the first place. I am not trying to make it sound like the technology isn’t important. That’s huge. But we don’t seem to be talking about anything else. It’s just seen as a way to ease congestion, and, again, while that is a great problem to solve – this kind of technology creates so many other problems that need to be solved.
Let’s think about this for a moment, and look at a mid-size city. If you go to any downtown area, there is bound to be two things – traffic congestion and high rises. If you’ve got flying cars roaming about the downtown area, where are they going to land? On top of a high rise? Let’s assume that’s feasible, how will they get down from the top of that building? Well, now as part of the development process, developers are going to have to include helipads and some kind of stair and elevator access. They might already have this in the plans, but do they go to the roof? What if someone wants to take a flying car (or taxi) at 3 am, and the building is closed? Will they need some kind of key to access the building?
Let’s look at a different scenario now. Instead of landing on the top of a roof, let’s say that a city can build a place for the flying cars to land safely on the ground. Let’s call it a Park, for lack of a better term. City infrastructure is typically planned years and years in advance. In fact, from a planning perspective, cities speak in the 10 and 20-year marks. So how and when will this park get built? I realize that we can’t have one without the other, but my concern is that we are focused too much on the technology that we haven’t given infrastructure enough thought.
Or, if the thought has been given, have local cities been part of the conversation? When it comes to developing technology, a lot of it relies on the market to change, or for our habits to change. Think about Amazon’s technology Alexa for a moment. When that was introduced, it was something that we could see as changing our lives. In small ways at first. Its impact has been incredible, but it changed us as individuals. When it comes to flying cars, the changes will be societal, and even cultural to some extent.
This post isn’t my way of ragging on the idea that we shouldn’t advance from a technology perspective. I love the idea of a flying car. But rather, I am attempting to demonstrate that sometimes these changes aren’t even remotely small at first. They require large-scale, advanced planning, so I hope that Uber and Bell (and anyone else) thinking about these kinds of changes, also consider what impact they might have.