So where are the flying cars? The future's not what it used to be

Flying cars -- long the idealistic vision of futurists past and present -- may always be too impractical. But not impossible.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Okay, cars are getting a lot smarter, as just observed by my colleague Larry Dignan, but why aren't they capable of flying yet?  Where are the flying cars? Where are the jetpacks?

Maybe it's time to get over that 1960s-Jetsons-era vision and move on to more realistic, sustainable goals. Then again, maybe  flying cars will still be part of a future in some form.

World Future Society spokesman Patrick Tucker tells CBS correspondent Tracy Smith why the future is "okay" without flying cars. Flying cars -- long the idealistic vision of futurists past and present -- may always be too impractical. And considering the way some people drive, it would be better if they weren't whizzing around 1,000 feet in the air. "The regulatory and bureaucratic obstacles to a flying car system in a developed country like the United States are probably insurmountable," Tucker says.

Don't tell the folks at Terrafugia, Inc. about Tucker's poo-pooing of flying cars. Terrafugia said last year that it successfully completed the flight testing program designed for its Transition Roadable Aircraft Proof of Concept. (Check out the video.)

Terrafugia calls its prototype The Flying Car, which completed its historic first flight on March 5, 2009 with 27 additional flights completed over the next several weeks. First delivery of a production model is expected in 2011, the company says.

Then there are interesting innovations happening with hovercraft, which may turn into the first manifestations of mass-produced "flying cars" (even if they do only go a foot above the ground).  Just the other day, in fact, President Obama convinced New York Times reporter Sheryl Stolberg to demo a small hovercraft at Industrial Support Inc., a manufacturing services company in Buffalo, N.Y.

Most predictions about the future do tend to miss the mark, but many things are coming to pass as well. Picture phones, for example, were always something that were somewhere off in the future, but are now an everyday reality, thanks to cellphone advances and Webcams. Flat-screen TVs, long anticipated, also are a daily reality. Another interesting twist, Tucker says -- we may be viewing television within our heads.

We do have a space station, a la 2001: A Space Odyssey, albeit much more cramped and sparsely occupied than the grand orbiting hotel envisioned in the movie.

It seems the one area that most futurists of the past got it wrong was computing. Most views of future are a vision of huge, often menacing, Hal-like centralized supercomputers keeping all things connected. (Think 2001, and Colossus: The Forbin Project). I don't think anybody foresaw saw the loose -- and highly democratic -- confederation of systems of all sizes that make up our emerging world of social networking and cloud services.

Image: The Fifth Element/Columbia Pictures

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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