Tesla's Musk considers flying cars amid skepticism

“Maybe we'll make a flying car, just for fun,” said Elon Musk as reported by Jamie Merrill in the Independent. Writes Merrill, “From any other businessman, such a statement would be a joke. But the billionaire, 42, who has poured the millions he made from the sale of his online payments firm PayPal into companies producing top-of-the-range electric vehicles, solar power, and spacecraft, is serious.”

Meanwhile, Adam Frank, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester, explains in the New York Times why we don't have flying cars. As he puts it, “… the humbling truth is that we don’t have these vehicles because we still don’t know, even in principle, how to directly manipulate gravity. Indeed, the cars missing from our skies should serve to remind us that, to a degree rarely appreciated, we have surprisingly poor control over most of nature’s fundamental forces.”

Frank, author of About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang and a founder of NPR’s 13.7 cosmos & culture blog, notes that of the four forces of nature—gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces—we are masters of only electromagnetism. And we are not even very good with electromagnetism when it comes to flying, for which we rely on “…a heavy-handed application of the electromagnetic force through fuels and engines.”

Musk, however, tells Merrill of the Independent, “We could definitely make a flying car—but that's not the hard part. The hard part is, how do you make a flying car that's super safe and quiet? Because if it's a howler, you're going to make people very unhappy.”

Musk was in London to launch the Tesla S in the UK, where he is also considering opening an engineering research and development center.

As you're awaiting your flying car, you can keep in mind some advice from Professor Frank in the Times: “…the next time you’re squeezed in the middle seat in row 37 and your bones are vibrating with the whine of the giant engines, remember: The fault is not with the airline, but with the universe.”

All well and good, but the universe does not mandate that there be a middle seat.

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