Nov. 5, 2006 — -- What will the future look like? That's what we wanted to know. "Good Morning America Weekend Edition" told you what the future would look like in 2031. But some of you still had questions, so we asked leading futurist Paul Saffo to weigh in. This is what he had to say.
Q: On the show, flying cars were shown zipping between city buildings. But if they're traveling up to 300 mph, what prevents them from crashing into buildings? And even if they're communicating with each other to avoid accidents, what prevents other factors (mechanical breakdowns -- or wind, as in the Cory Lidle case), from undermining that system? Doesn't this all endanger the people on the ground, in the buildings and in the other flying cars?
Saffo: I am a skeptic when it comes to flying cars for several reasons, including the ones you note. Of the many problems holding up flying cars (power supply, aerodynamics, cost), the most serious is navigation.
Most people can barely manage driving a car, so it is not hard to imagine the trouble they get in when one adds the vertical dimension. The good news is that this may be the easiest problem to solve, and we will solve it by basically handing control of flight to computers.
Humans may still have something that looks like a yoke or control stick, but it will simply communicate the driver's desires to the computer and not directly to the control surfaces. This leverages the steady advances in computer power (for example, a Furbie has 100 times the computing power on board the original Apollo command module) which has already put supercomputers in our homes in the form of games machines, and also uses sub-meter GPS and other navigational technologies. This sounds futuristic, but it actually is not far away from use in private light aircraft and also in automobile navigation systems, as well as in robotic (land) vehicle control. For an example of the latter, take a look at the upcoming 2007 DARPA Urban Robotic Grand Challenge (http://www.darpa.mil/grandchallenge/index.asp) which will demonstrate autonomous robotic vehicles driving in an urban setting.