Monday, January 25, 2010

Will Individual Flying Machines Ever Be Practical?

Are you one of those who feel the promises of technology have failed you because there is not yet a flying car like the Jetsons promised. Well, it is possible that private flying machines may become reality soon.

A proven producer of space-age technology, NASA, is developing a personal flying machine called Puffin that is just large enough for one person. The "plane" takes off vertically, powered by a pair of electric motors and then levels out to fly up to 300 miles per hour. You'll fly horizontally like Superman. The electric motors make the machine almost silent unlike the roaring engines we have seen in "jet-pack" versions of personal flight.

So, imagine they really produce such a device and call our bluff. Are we brave enough to actually fly around by ourselves? Most people are afraid to ride a motorcycle. This would be like a flying motorcycle that can go three times faster. A flock of birds might be hazardous to our health. Still, motorcycle riders tend to avoid hitting deer or other things that wander onto the road, enough to not discourage them from enjoying the wind in their hair. I guess flying machines are going to appeal to people who like hang-gliding, skateboarding, snowboarding and other common activities that require dexterity and skill.

This is clearly, like the automobile, a technology that will require the design of an entire system of protocols, rules, regulations and licensing. It would make commuting much more interesting. The real design challenge may be in designing the infrastructure rather than designing the machine itself.

Can your students draw an "interstate highway system" for individual flying machines? Will it look something like the chaos of flying cars and taxis in "The Fifth Element"? Click on the heading above to see what I mean. Still want to fly?

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