The auto industry has a grand and glorious history of life-altering technological innovation that stretches back more than a century. It put America — and, arguably, the world — on wheels, enabling the near elimination of geographical distances that kept portions of the world isolated and insulated.
Yes, it's quite a history. But let's also admit that, every once in a while, we get ahead of ourselves when it comes to chasing technological advancement at the cost of safety. And that appears to be the case again with the development of autonomous flying vehicles, including those intended to one day carry humans from one point to another.
There is no doubt that integrated, functional 3D personal transportation systems have the potential to dramatically ease roadway congestion. But the reality is that while technology has transformed once cutting-edge aviation systems into now-common drones, we remain a very long way from the century-old dream of flying cars.
Big names in our industry are pursuing what amounts to air taxis — passenger pods capable of ferrying up to four people using electrically powered multirotor flight systems. Audi has teamed with aviation giant Airbus to show such a concept in Geneva. Supplier Denso says it's moving forward with "urban air mobility." Even Toyota has filed a patent for a flying car.
We are all for technological advancement and even occasional moonshots — especially given the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing next month. But now as then, safety must come first. Testing of such systems must be exhaustive, their safe use assured and their operations regulated before we, as a society, should allow the skies above our homes and schools to be filled with heavy, human-filled projectiles.
This view may seem paranoid, but it is not without cause given recent history. Anyone who believes that a manufacturer would never put lives in danger to rush new technology to market is ignoring history as well as human nature and game theory.
Until "urban air mobility" is demonstrably and reliably safe, there is plenty to be done on the ground to make transportation safer. Far too many people continue to die in preventable auto accidents each year. Let's save those lives before we rush off to chase the next dream.