THIS MONTH, AS EARSPLITTING Seafair jets rip through our skies, just think: Boeing dreams of a day when a lot more stuff will hurl through the air all the time. Richard Jones, of Boeing’s research department Phantom Works, is paid to envision a future filled with flying cars—honest to God, flying cars. More important, no piloting skills necessary.
“We’re looking at systems to prevent humans from messing it up,” explains Jones. Imagine taking wing 6,000 feet over downtown Seattle at rush hour, and, instead of halting in gridlock, letting your onboard robot pilot tweak elevation, speed, and direction as you corkscrew through sky traffic. “We want to make the autonomous systems safe enough,” the researcher says, “that you’d put your grandmother in one.” Alas, that grandmother may be you. Jones says the traffic system he describes won’t be operational until 2030.