Editor’s Note: Gwen Lighter is the founder of the GoFly Prize, the multi-million dollar global challenge to create personal human flight machines. The opinions expressed in this commentary belong to the author. View more opinion at CNN.
Lost amid the contentious rhetoric in Washington is a bill before Congress that actually has bipartisan support. America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019 is a $287 billion spending bill to fund highways, bridges and tunnels, with grant programs to provide infrastructure for hybrid, electric and alternative-fueled vehicles.
This is an important first step, but it is akin to putting a bandage on a severed artery. America’s infrastructure is in dire need of repairs.The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates the US needs to spend some $4.5 trillion by 2025 to improve the country’s roads, bridges, airports and more. According to TRIP, a national transportation research group, 44% of America’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition.
And problems with our infrastructure will only worsen due to growing urbanization. A United Nations report last year predicted that by the year 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas. To accommodate this population density, cities will require massive changes to infrastructure, including more efficient and environmentally friendly transportation.
One innovative solution is on the horizon. For the first time in history, we have the ability to create personal human flight. Earlier this month, Franky Zapata piloted his hoverboard across the English Channel. Of course, this is just one example of many inventions that are being developed.
From electric aircraft to jetpacks, our science fiction dreams are becoming a reality.
There has been a convergence of breakthrough technologies over the past few years. Personal flyers are now possible with advances in propulsion, lightweight materials, and the sensing and control systems of the drone world. Combined with the increased performance of batteries and capacitors that make it possible for electric vehicles to go farther than ever before, along with the advent of 3D printing and other types of rapid prototyping, inventors around the world are able to finally create the flying devices of their childhood dreams.
A number of initiatives are already striving to take us off the roadways and onto the skyways. Kitty Hawk’s Cora, the all-electric two-seater air taxi, is currently testing in New Zealand. And Boeing’s Aurora Passenger Air Vehicle (PAV) became one of the first electric prototypes to successfully achieve autonomous hover flight in January. Meanwhile, Uber has partnered with multiple companies to conduct test flights of flying taxis by next year.
Boeing, Pratt & Whitney, and more than 20 aviation associations have also supported the GoFly Prize – the multi-million dollar challenge that I created. Zapata was a Phase 1 participant in the competition, which has attracted more than 840 teams with a total of 3,750 innovators from around the world – all with the singular goal of creating a personal human flyer.
The GoFly Prize is championing the development of vertical take-off and landing vehicles. These GoFly VTOLs are lightweight, quiet, single passenger aircraft that take off vertically into the air – meaning they don’t need runway space – and are often powered by electric or hybrid engines, making them both energy-efficient and ideal for commuting in cities.
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In the face of increasing urbanization and failing infrastructure, it is necessary that we adopt a transportation system centered around personal flight. We have the technology, and the Federal Aviation Administration is already working on the regulatory aspects. The final step will be public acceptance. With the GoFly Prize, as well as other personal flight programs currently being piloted around the world, the public will soon realize just how efficient and effective this form of transportation will be.
In a speech in September of 1962, President John F. Kennedy declared: “We choose to go to the Moon … and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills …”
We have gone far beyond what Kennedy could have ever imagined when he set his bold deadline in the space race challenge. Now it is imperative that we reach the next audacious challenge by making the dream of human flight a reality.