Are we all going to be riding around in self-piloting, vertical-liftoff flying cars 15 years from now? Probably not—they'll be much too expensive for most of us—but assuming Terrafugia can get past the scientific and regulatory hurdles blocking development of its TF-X prototype (a big assumption, to be sure), a few people will. And who knows? By the mid-2030s, some of the rest of us might be able to get on board, too.
Watch a computer-modeled TF-X in action here:
I've noticed reactions to this video tend to fall into one of two categories: "this is freaking cool," or "this is freaking terrifying." You can put me more in the second category—I don't even love ordinary cars, and the idea of rocketing around in the sky at 200mph in a self-piloting prototype leaves me cold—but what's the future for if it isn't for flying cars?
Terrafugia has already created a street-legal airplane, the Terrafugia Transition, which you can see in action here:
If the TF-X flies as well as the Transition drives, we'll be OK—but that's a big if. The biggest technological hurdle the TF-X faces is vertical liftoff, which is a pretty new idea even for military aircraft and hasn't really caught on for widespread civilian use in any context. Without vertical liftoff you'd need runways, and the whole point of flying cars as they've been traditionally conceptualized is that they don't need runways. The TF-X is theoretically capable of vertical liftoff, but you can't ride to work in a theory. We'll have a better sense of things in ten years or so, after the first prototype is ready to make its debut.