Drivers have looked towards the sky and asked when we’ll be getting flying cars for decades, but if we ever do figure out a way to make the family minivan fly, chances are you won’t be behind the wheel — nobody will. Ford’s executive chairman said the vehicles would have to be autonomous because, essentially, people suck at driving on the ground, and may heaven help us if they ever take to the skies.
Bill Ford, who in addition to his official role at America’s iconic automaker is also Henry Ford’s great-grandson, was speaking at South by Southwest in Austin on Monday when someone asked if his namesake car company was investing in making flying cars. According to Business Insider, Ford shot the idea down — for now, at least.
“We’re not, but it’s not so crazy,” he said. “Although I would say they had better be autonomous. Most people can’t drive two dimensions, let alone three.”
Ford said creating flying cars was very doable on a technical level, adding that he’d seen a successful test firsthand. The problem, though, is people.
“Think about today, planes, which you have to take off and land at the airport, which eliminates 99% of their usefulness,” he said. “You have to be a licensed pilot. Well, how many of those are there?”
To answer Ford’s question, the FAA reports that there were 584,362 licensed pilots in the United States in 2016. For comparison, there were almost 220 million licensed drivers in the country in 2015. Now, imagine if millions of those people were suddenly in the clouds with an unknown amount of flight training.
Handing over control to an autonomous car is scary, but when perfected, A.I. that eliminates human error will in most cases make driving safer. Self-flying cars would almost certainly be less risky than a bunch of randos careening through the air in their quadcopter death traps and, most likely, texting while piloting.
Until autonomous technology gets to that point, though, Ford will keep things grounded.
“I wouldn’t say never for us, but not in the short term for us,” Ford said.
Even then, flying cars might still be a bad idea. As Tesla CEO Elon Musk pointed out, “if somebody doesn’t maintain their flying car, it could drop a hubcap and guillotine you.” That’s still a possibility if there’s an A.I. at the wheel instead of a person.