I want a machine that safely shaves my face while I'm still waking up. I want a sassy maid who's happy to be compensated in WD40. But mostly, I want a flying car. OK, so not really, but who didn't expect we'd have them by 2004 while watching cartoons as a kid? Apparently, we'll still be waiting for decades, but the technology is getting there:
In 10 years, NASA hopes to have created technology for going door-to-door. These still wouldn't be full-fledged flying cars — instead, they'd be small planes that can drive very short distances on side streets, after landing at a nearby airport.
In 15 years, they hope to have the technology for larger vehicles, seating as many as four passengers, and the ability to make vertical takeoffs.
It will probably take years after these technologies are developed before such vehicles are actually on the market. And Moore says it will take about 25 years to get to anything "remotely 'Jetsons'-like,'" a reference to the futuristic cartoon that fed many flying car fantasies.
So what's the hold up?
The problem is, those ideas have generally required both a lot of money and the skills of a trained pilot. And melding cars and planes hasn't always been very successful.
"When you try to combine them you get the worst of both worlds: a very heavy, slow, expensive vehicle that's hard to use," said Mark Moore, who heads the personal air vehicle division of the vehicle systems program at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
I imagine the first few years of flying cars will see horrendous accidents lead to strict regulation of who's qualified to fly a car, but I imagine we'll be far ahead, safetywise, of where we were when automobiles first became widely available. Clearly, the key is to automate as much of the experience as possible. NASA is already working on this:
Within five years, NASA researchers hope to develop technology for a small airplane that can fly out of regional airports, costs less than $100,000, is as quiet as a motorcycle and as simple to operate as a car. Although it wouldn't have any road-driving capabilities, it would give regular people the ability to fly short distances.
To make flying simpler, NASA is working on technologies that would automate more pilot's functions.
Boeing is working on traffic engineering already, too:
Boeing is especially interested in the broader problem of figuring out how to police the airways — and prevent total pandemonium — if thousands of flying cars enter the skies. No one wants to be cut off, tailgated or buzzed a little too closely by a student driver at 1,000 feet.
"The neat, gee-whiz part (is) thinking about what would the vehicle itself look like, but we're trying to think through all the ramifications of what would it take to deploy a fleet of these," said Dick Paul, a vice president with Phantom Works, Boeing's research arm.
And what about weather? I've never imagined flying cars being much higher than 1,000 feet or so, but what would a thunderstorm mean to small flying vehicles? Or Fog? Or snow for landing? The idea of going door-to-door gets a lot more complicated than it is automobiles.
But if none of this bothers you and you just can't wait for a flying car, Moller International is taking advance orders for their M400 Skycar. If you want one of the first ones, it will set you back a mere $995,000.
Of course, in this day and age, this also opens up the question how to prevent terrorists from using these to attack, which may, in and of itself, be the biggest reason we don't not see widespread use of flying cars in our lifetime.