Where are the flying cars?
Having been born in the 1960s and watched all the Apollo moon landings, the one prediction of the future I recall best is that we would all be commuting in cars that flew. No more traffic jams. No more toll roads. Perhaps they all had small nuclear reactors in them so there was no need for gas or any other fuel. The plan was for The Jetsons to look like a reality TV show.
Almost 40 years since man first landed on the moon, my car is still permanently land-based; I still pay tolls; and I’m still filling it with gas. What did the promised transportation revolution delivered instead? The Segway. The company first marketed itself as “the next generation in personal mobility,” which apparently meant traveling at about 12.5 miles (20 km) per hour with a range of 24 miles (38 km) before you had to re-charge the lithium-ion battery packs. As revolutionary as The Jetsons? This can’t even compete with the Batmobile.
The inventor of the Segway, Dean Kamen, once predicted that, “the Segway will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy." I remember the buzz that the Segway would mean the end to walking. It is hard to support the idea that the next transportation revolution should be the end of walking.
Dean Kamen is a smart guy – certainly smarter than I am. But the Segway was obviously designed in vacuum; devoid of consumer input. The “if you build it, they will come” model of product development – focused on engineering rather than consumer research – is based on hope and, as the cliché goes, hope is not a strategy. So I hope to contrast my ideas – whether you think they are any good or not – with those of engineers, like Kamen. Since I’m certainly not an engineer, I consider myself instead a technologist, which I define like this: the optimist sees the glass half full; the pessimist sees the glass half empty; and the technologist wonders why the engineer didn’t talk to anyone before building a glass that was twice as large as anyone wanted or needed.