Wednesday January 31, 2001
(CM348: IBM commercial first 26 secs, then
instrumental fades up, you can hold under the
clip:It's the year 2000. But where are the
flying cars? I don't see ANY flying cars! Why?
Why? Why? Because millions of people can work on
the Web 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You don't
need flying cars. But you will need a different
kind of software.
When IBM released that commercial last year,
they were trying to make the point that no one
should still be longing for flying cars when the
real future was in their software.
The unfortunate thing is... some people are
still waiting for the flying cars!
As part of our Shifting Gears series on traffic,
our trends guy Alan Neal decided to shift his
attention to the need in our society... or lack
thereof.. for flying cars. He spoke to inventors
like HoverTech's Bill Butler about why they
still are trying to make cars fly.
IN: "It's .."
OUT: "..it got me thinking."
BILL: It's definitely not about money.. because
I have not made any money off of this. There's a
chance I could end up a starving inventor. But I
guess it goes back to that age-old dream of
wanting to overcome gravity and fly like the
birds, And a lot of people seem to have that
same dream. Probably back as early as elementary
school, I've been talking about this kind of
stuff. I remember when I was only about 12, when
I made a pair of wings and tried jumping off the
roof. That was obviously a big failure, but it
got me thinking.
Fly away with Alan Neal's trends column on
flying cars... part of our Shifting Gears
traffic series today on Ottawa Morning after the
(bring up music: Benny Goodman's tune "Flying
(MUSIC: w/clip.. fade after "Meet George
Jetson.." @ 25 secs in)
(NORS Imagine if you can get into a Corvette,
back out of your garage, and lift off straight
out of your driveway.. it converts into forward
flight... very similar to an airplane... and you
have a radius of 1000 miles that you can go at
rather high speed.. and you don't drive it.. you
just tell it where you want to go.)
Ahhh, the Corvette that can fly. It's been the
futuristic fantasy of many generations of drivers
wanting to escape traffic jams... but weren't we
all supposed to have flying cars by the year
2001? In the spirit of our Shifting Gears series
on traffic, our trends guy Alan Neal decided to
check in on what's up with the flying car. Good
ALAN Good morning John. A book on Inventions that
I had as a child predicted that by 1987, children
would be flying to school with jet backpacks...
and, of course, that families would regularly be
rocketing around the neighborhood like The
Jetsons. Well, I was patient. I waited, past
1987... past 1997.. but, it's 2001, already.
Where the heck's my flying car?
JOHN So, are we nearly there? Is science on the
ALAN Well... American scientists are. No one at
the NRC, Transport Canada or the institute of
Aerospace Engineering were able to tell me one
Canadian scientist who was working on the flying
car... in Canada. However, a guy who grew up IN
Canada, Paul Moller, has perhaps what some are
calling the very closest to George Jetson as we
can get, and that's an invention called The
JOHN And what does the Skycar look like?
ALAN Imagine a sportscar that seats four, with a
bubbled cockpit on three wheels that can take off
through the sky. Now, I'd tell you more, but
unfortunately, Paul Moller's schedule wasn't
really working with Ottawa Morning's: the week of
your big traffic series and he's meeting with the
Pentagon about the Skycar. Sheesh, priorities,
priorities. But luckily, he's not the only one
out there working on a flying car. In fact,
there are many many plans in the works... This
month in Popular Mechanics, their Technology
Watch section pays note to the company Macro
Industries' SkyRider machine... which is what you
heard Macro Industries' Norris Luce (Loose)
describing off the top there.
JOHN The flying corvette. Now how does it work?
ALAN Well, no one wants to explain really HOW the
machines work, because no one wants to give away
secrets on what is still, really, a burgeoning
industry. So what I can tell you is the Skyrider
has these four big fans on it... as Popular
Mechanics puts it... "The SkyRider will use four
ducted fans powered by 30,000 rpm stepper motors
and a current from a high-frequency generator
that is spun by a six-cylinder gasoline engine
that Macro rebuilt with its proprietary rotary
valves." Somebody get me a cordless drill, John,
I feel like fixing something. When I spoke to
Nors,he explained that the fans will move the
plane kind of like the way a sea turtle uses its
IN: "Imagine a.."
(Imagine a sea turtle in the ocean. If it
paddles harder on one side, it turns. It's got
four different propulsors that are also
course-corrective systems. The body's weight
efficient, propulsors are efficient, control
system's simple. So if I've got these ducted
fans on it and can vary the power of each one of
'em independently, plus they articulate, like a
turtle's does... I mean, they don't move in a
ball but spin on an axis.. allowing you to
control the direction of the thrust... then how
it moves is like a cross between a bird and a
ALAN So, that's probably the only time you're
going to hear a turtle's legs described as a
"propulsor with a course-corrective system"...
JOHN All right... so how different is the
SkyRider from, say, the flying cars that have
been attempted in the past?
ALAN Well, no one seems to want to actually
create flying cars that we DRIVE in little lanes
of air-traffic like we saw on the Jetsons or in
the Star Wars movies. There's great interest in
flying cars that drive themselves, where you say
to it, "Take me to the store" and it goes, guided
by an onboard computer system that'll steer it
around all the other flying cars and get you
there in the fastest way possible. That's the
hope of people like Patrick Salsbury, a guy who
describes himself as a "tech weenie futurist" who
runs the site "Sculptors.Com" which has a mailing
list dedicated to the virtues of flying cars that
are on autopilot.
IN: "My vision..."
OUT: "... what to do."
("My vision of the sky is a lot of vehicles, all
going in their own directions, not regimented,
not in "sky lanes". Everything under computer
autopilot control. I don't think there's any
reason to train everyone to be pilots. If we can
have computers do it, we might as well. And it
gives us more time to check our email, play
videogames, sleep in the car... whatever!
Whatever we want to do.")
ALAN I just hope the car does the parking for
us... because I'm just picturing Christmas time
at the malls... you know, everyone's already
yelling and swearing at each other over parking
spaces, and then there you are, up in the sky,
yelling "No, wait a sec! That parking space is
MINE!" That was actually one of the concerns of
Renald Fortier's. He's the curator of a really
interesting exhibit over at the Canada Aviation
Museum, called "Retrospective of the Future",
which looks at why many of our visions of the
future didn't really come true. If you go to the
museum you can see the Airphibian, a flying car
developed in the 1940's by Robert Fulton Junior.
The Airphibian actually did work, and the
exhibit's curator Renald Fortier said several of
the flying cars developed at this time were sound
technologically . The flaw came in the marketing.
It was a time when it was thought hey, the war's
over, everyone's going to prosper... but Fortier
says that nobody prospered enough to make the
personal air transport really get off the ground,
so to speak. Flying cars were seen as being
luxury items, not marketable enough to the
general public. And he says that today's flashier
models like the Skycar and the Skyrider face an
audience that may be even tougher to please.
IN: "You look at.."
OUT: "..hard road."
("You look at the time when the Airphibian was
developed, there was a confidence in the future,
a confidence in technology. 'Nuclear power can
be harnessed for civilian purposes'. They even
had projects for nuclear cars. Great confidence
in the future that doesn't exist today. The idea
of science and technology no longer seems like
the be-all, end-all solution as it was 40 or 50
years ago. The atmosphere has changed. He might
suceed,, Mr. Moller. I wish him luck. But it'll
be a hard road.")
ALAN And when he says that, all I can picture is
that scene in "Back To The Future" where
Christopher Lloyd says "Roads? Where we're going,
we don't need roads..." and then they take off in
their flying car...
JOHN Okay but Fortier brings up an interesting
point: if the public isn't as easy to sell on the
concept, won't it be harder to get investors to
develop the technology?
ALAN Well,yes. I spoke to Bill Butler of
HoverTech, who for the past ten years has been
trying to develop hovering technology using what
he calls "magnacraft"... that's where he'd be
tapping into the earth's magnetic field and
something called "ground effects system", which
would involve magnetically containing ionized air
under a vehicle... do I not sound like I know
what I'm talking about or WHAT?... But he says
one of the main problems right now is that this
isn't always the kind of technology investors
want anymore. They're more interested in
information highways than they are in skyways.
("There's so much focus on the Internet that
people seem to have forgotten about the aspects
of our future, such as flying cars. Which are
essential because we cannot thrive as a species
just living in a virtual world on the Internet.
We need to travel. We need to explore.")
JOHN So why have investors forgotten the old
sci-fi dream of the flying car?
ALAN Well, and in fact, this is what I thought
was so interesting: the flying car apparently
isn't as en vogue in science fiction anymore
either. I spoke to science fiction author Robert
J Sawyer about this, and he says that sci-fi
authors in the year 2001 have a new utopian
OUT: "..get around."
("Today we have realized the environmental
concrens of the world work against the idea of
personal transportation. Now there's more of a
discussion of mass transit and public transit in
science fiction that on how each individual
needs their own expensive and
pollution-producing piece of hardware to get
JOHN Wait a minute. So that's our big
science-fiction vision of the future: everybody
takes the bus?
ALAN Well, or moving sidewalks. Personally, I'm
holding out for the flying car, John... and with
luck, they'll figure out a way of making it fold
up into a briefcase like George Jetson's.
JOHN Thanks Alan. If you have trends ideas for
Alan, call at 562-8666 or email him:
Overview of others:
Patrick Salsbury (the "autopilot mailing list" is on this site!):
Hovertech's Flying Cars
Canadian Aviation Museum(phone 993-2010)