The people developing autonomous vehicles should probably be thinking as much about how to get people to accept the technology, and how to protect individual freedom, as they are about making the technology work.
What about flying cars?
Inventors have not given up that dream. Just a few months ago, an outfit in Slovakia called AeroMobil unveiled a design for a battery-powered flying car that the company says will be able to land and take off vertically as well as drive on roads. It would fly autonomously, meaning the driver theoretically wouldn’t need a pilot’s license. AeroMobil says the vehicle will be available in five to seven years. AeroMobil has also developed a flying car with an internal combustion engine that requires only a very short runway. It will be available in 2020, AeroMobil says. We’ll see!
Flying cars would be very expensive and therefore never more than a niche product. Until we invent some kind of “Jetsons”-like antigravity technology, flying cars will always be inherently inefficient. When you’re in the air you’re carrying around equipment you don’t need for flying, like large road-worthy wheels, and when you’re on the ground you’re carting around stuff that is useless on the highway, like wings or rotors.
For my money a more plausible concept is one being developed by Airbus, the giant European aircraft manufacturer, called Pop Up. It’s a passenger pod that can be carried around by a battery-powered unit that looks like a large hobby drone. The drone carries the pod across town, then drops it onto a battery-powered chassis for driving around the city. It would be a shared, on-demand service and therefore more within the reach of regular folks.
What are your favorite tech tools for doing your job?
An app called AudioNote has been life changing. It records sound while you type notes on your MacBook or iPad. Later, you can click on a word in the text and it will take you to that spot in the recording, so you can easily double-check quotes. In the old days, looking for a quote in a long recorded interview was incredibly time consuming.
LinkedIn is very useful for finding and contacting sources, and for bypassing all the people corporations employ to keep you from finding out what’s really going on. But I also still use snail mail. Everyone is so bombarded with electronic communications these days that often a letter is the best way to get somebody’s attention.
Beyond your job, what tech product are you currently obsessed with using in your daily life?
I’m fascinated by products that seem low tech but are actually very advanced. An example would be the Nomos watch I bought my wife for our 25th anniversary last year. The watch is purely mechanical — you have to wind it up. But, as I learned during a visit to the Nomos factory in a village in eastern Germany, it would not be possible to make the watches as exquisitely thin and light as they are without state-of-the-art computer-driven machinery.