Humans have been puzzling over how to make flying cars for 100 years, but what would be the advantages of such an invention? Well, the expense of constructing roads would disappear; travel time would be reduced; air space can accommodate far more vehicles than road networks; and residential areas could simply be flown over. Before this can become a reality, however, there are still many challenges that need to be overcome. Flying cars would need to be relatively cheap to manufacture so that almost everyone could afford to buy one, yet they would also need to have a minimal environmental impact. Another important aspect is safety – after all, a malfunction would have much more drastic consequences in the air than on the ground. Managing the various three-dimensional flight corridors would be a further challenge, not to mention the social dimension of completely altering people’s driving behaviour.
Scientists from Germany, the UK and Switzerland are working together on the EU-funded research project myCopter to try and find out how to make aviation as simple and as widely accepted as driving a car. These researchers all agree that such a big change will not be achieved solely through technological advances. Therefore, groups such as Professor Bülthoff’s department at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen are carrying out crucial research into the interfaces and interactions between humans and machines to answer questions such as: How much of the vehicle’s control and navigation can and must be automated? How much control should the driver retain? How would the vehicle have to operate to allow all drivers to become pilots?
This sector is currently experiencing a research boom, and scientists are optimistic that, in ten years’ time, cars might be able to fly – but only if people are keen to take to the skies.
Prof. Heinrich H. Bülthoff of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen answered this question.