NASA scientist Dennis Bushnell tells Technology Review that electronic technology advances in GPS, auto-pilot and other areas will allow unskilled people to pilot aircars.
The technology of personal VTOL transportation is "expanding and will soon be exploding," says Bushnell, with at least a dozen individuals and groups in the United States now competing to produce a safe, dependable aircar. The U.S. Army and Navy are developing aircar-type vehicles for military applications, and a NASA researcher has also been working on a design. Most of the action seems to be in the United States, though at least one foreign company—Urban Aeronautics in Israel—is also in the race.
The companies currently trying to design vertical take-off and landing vehicles for mass use may be premature in their efforts given the current state of materials technology. But materials advances using nanotechnology should eventually enable the construction of flying craft that are much lighter and stronger. Also, powerplants with higher thrust-to-weight ratios should also eventually be constructable due to coming materials advances.
The other key area of enabling technologies is in electronics and computing. The amount of decision-making load that would need to be off-loaded from the human operator would of course have to be far greater if people who are not trained pilots are to operate personal aircars. Certainly the capacity of computers will continue to advance quite rapidly. The challenge will be to develop software sophisticated enough to recognize a large range of operating conditions and dangers and to react appropriately.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2003 May 30 03:15 PM Airplanes and Spacecraft|