Two times in my life I have made predictions about technology that were pure genius. The first time was when I first saw Hypertext Markup Language. At the time, the only websites were gray pages with blue links. I said to a friend at the time that this would replace mail order and probably retail. A storefront on the Internet would let the little guy compete globally for customers. The person I said this to thought I had lost my marbles.
The second time this happened was in a discussion of mobile devices. At the time, palm-top organizers were just hitting the street. Someone said to me that one day someone is going to get rich selling carrying cases for all of these devises. My response was that someone was going to get rich combining them into a single device, like a phone that was an organizer, camera and personal identification. He too thought I was nuts.
This does not make me a genius, of course, as I did nothing with these insights and lots of other people figured it too. The point is I saw the future as something other than a straight line projection from the present. That’s hard to do which is why we rarely do it. Like everyone else, I expect tomorrow to look like an extension of today, because that has been my experience, with some notable exceptions. It’s why most predictions about the future are hilariously wrong.
When I read this story the other day, I immediately thought about those prior times when I had a bit of inspired thought. As long as I have been alive, the dream of personal air travel has been a part of predictions about the future. If it is not flying cars, it is hovercraft, jet-packs or levitation devices. In the future, the ground will be for bugs and losers. The winners will be floating in the clouds, riding thermals to their office and jetting about like Iron Man.
That sounds fun, but my bet is the future or transportation looks a lot different than flying cars or even robot cars. Instead, the future is probably something closer to personal drone transport. People will have quadcopters that can take them on short trips around town and drop them off safely back onto the ground. This would be fun, safe and solve some of the transportation issues of the modern world.
We already have the technology to build a drone that can navigate around obstacles and use GPS to locate a target. The small drones you can buy from hobbyist sites are simple to operate because of the built-in navigation technology. Scaling this up is nothing. Building a drone that can lift a person is basic engineering that has been done to death. Add in the software for guidance and navigation and you have a safe flying gizmo average people could use.
Obviously, the safety issue is the issue. But that’s where the technology of robot cars comes into the mix. If you can safely navigate around a city street, the same technology can be applied to the drone. That way, the typical user does not slam into a building or crash into the ground when landing. Unlike cars, the drone-space would be free of dogs, pedestrians, kids running into the street, potholes, etc.
The other advantage of personal drones transport is that the government can mandate safety at the start. That means, unlike cars, all drones must be wired into the drone-space control system. No classic drones allowed in the drone-space. You are either on the grid or you’re on the ground. That keeps the sky free from being butts-to-nuts with people flying around out of control.
The obvious benefit here is cost. The driverless cars will be prohibitively expensive for decades. Flying cars are never going to be practical. Jet-packs have that sudden fiery explosion issue. A decent drone is now a couple of grand. One for human transport would be comparable to a basic car or motorcycle, even with beefed up safety technology. That means they will be practical for most people from the start.
The downside here is they would not be of much use in bad weather. Flying around in a snowstorm is probably not going to be possible. That means these things will be more like motorcycles, a second vehicle for nice weather and nice climates. Unlike a motorcycle, you don’t have to worry about being crushed in the skies by a delivery truck, so more people would be willing to have a drone than a motorcycle.
The other upside here is they will not require trillions in new infrastructure. Electric cars, flying cars and jet-packs present all sorts of issues with the current infrastructure. The drone-space is open range at the moment. We already have laws governing the airspace so limiting where these things could be used is not a hug leap in regulatory policy. The only change in infrastructure would be rooftop landing pads maybe.
So, there you go. Cash out the retirement fund, mortgage the house and invest in drones.