The Traffic Laws When Cars Can Fly

January 2, 2019

What will the rules of the road be once we have flying cars? It's a problem we'll have to solve sooner than you think.


MALE_1: Before the rules of the road,

MALE_1: traffic was a free for all.

MALE_1: That changed in 1932 when

MALE_1: the American Association of State Highway Officials

MALE_1: issued the manual on uniform traffic control devices.

MALE_1: The manual laid out rules like right of way,

MALE_1: driving lanes, and speed limits.

MALE_1: The system works great on

MALE_1: the ground but the world is changing.

MALE_1: Amazon is prepared to customize its system for

MALE_1: drone delivery and Uber is

MALE_1: getting ready to launch flying taxis.

MALE_1: With all those new vehicles flying in

MALE_1: a 3D space comes chaos.

MALE_1: We need a new set of guidelines for the air.

MALE_1: Movies like The Fifth Element make it look easy.

MALE_1: But how do we even begin to develop the rules of the sky.

MALE_1: It's a problem we're going to have to solve

MALE_1: sooner rather than later.

MALE_1: [MUSIC] Amy Zalman is

MALE_1: a futurist and Professor of

MALE_1: Strategic foresight at Georgetown University.

MALE_1: Steve Weidner works for

MALE_1: the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

MALE_1: They're here to help us regulate the skies.

MALE_1: How do we create order of the highways above?

MALE_1: [MUSIC] Fortunately we already

MALE_1: have a rule book for the skies.

MALE_2: You know, can you cut direct

MALE_2: from point to point? Sure you can.

MALE_2: But- but there are

MALE_2: Airways systems that function much like highways in

MALE_2: the sky and you would see

MALE_2: this type of system evolve similar to that.

MALE_2: You- you would have to be- to

MALE_2: have some sort of defined roots,

MALE_2: clearly rules in place for

MALE_2: separation standards and things like

MALE_2: that in order to keep a system like that safe.

MALE_1: The reason the system works is because

MALE_1: these air highways are highly automated.

MALE_1: There is human supervision but

MALE_1: automation controls a lot of everyday air travel.

MALE_2: The pilots for the most part may be on autopilot shortly

MALE_2: after the aircraft lifts off

MALE_2: and to shortly before it lands.

MALE_1: And this autopilot system could act like

MALE_1: painted road lines and the skies of the future.

FEMALE_1: Ideally you're working inside of a system

FEMALE_1: where an automation system

FEMALE_1: will put you in the lane that you need to be in.

FEMALE_1: You don't get to say

FEMALE_1: I'm going to like swerve around this other car.

FEMALE_1: Like once you're in that lane you stay in

FEMALE_1: that lane until you get to your destination.


MALE_1: Air traffic controllers and

MALE_1: onboard automation systems use

MALE_1: computer generated flight paths and

MALE_1: radar to pinpoint aircraft locations.

MALE_1: But radar has its shortcomings.

MALE_1: Radar has blind spots due to things

MALE_1: like mountains and the curvature of the earth.

MALE_2: If they're staying in that area- airspace

MALE_2: below 400 feet agl,

MALE_2: there's no air traffic services provided, uh,

MALE_2: no separation provided, we're not

MALE_2: talking to them. We don't see them.

MALE_1: In the not so distant future the skies

MALE_1: below 400 feet will potentially

MALE_1: be full of drones delivering packages and flying taxis.

MALE_1: If there's no way to locate or

MALE_1: communicate with each aircraft,

MALE_1: collisions will be inevitable.

MALE_1: However it's a problem NASA has its eyes on fixing.

MALE_2: There is a large effort underway,

MALE_2: NASA's doing most of the research on it.

MALE_2: The overall program is

MALE_2: called unmanned traffic management.

MALE_2: This is the system that will be largely automated,

MALE_2: that will separate all of

MALE_2: these low altitude below

MALE_2: 400 feet above the ground operations.


MALE_1: Once radar capabilities are improved,

MALE_1: we can develop a system that

MALE_1: maximizes the flow of vehicles.

MALE_1: Some ideas suggest that vehicles flying further

MALE_1: and faster should travel at the highest altitudes,

MALE_1: while vehicles traveling local routes would be

MALE_1: designated to lower altitudes at lower speeds. [MUSIC].

MALE_1: But there's always at least a little bit

MALE_1: of danger when it comes to a fully automated system.

FEMALE_1: Well I mean anything highly automated is highly hackable.

MALE_1: And what about common everyday breakdowns?

FEMALE_1: The safety issues when they do occur are a very big deal.

FEMALE_1: You can't pull over to the side of the road in the air.

FEMALE_1: So what you could have are just like

FEMALE_1: very stringent requirements for upkeep.

FEMALE_1: We have to take our car and

FEMALE_1: for certain kinds of checks once a

FEMALE_1: year just to have you know, maintained by law.

FEMALE_1: So what if you have to do this every three

FEMALE_1: weeks if you actually own one of these.


MALE_1: Ready or not flying cars are coming.

MALE_1: Countries like United Arab Emirates and Japan

MALE_1: are already investing heavily to make them a reality.

MALE_1: Dubai is testing flying

MALE_1: taxis and Japan is allocating funds for

MALE_1: research hoping to bring

MALE_1: flying cars to life in the early 2020.

MALE_1: So it's not a matter of if flying cars,

MALE_1: ready or not flying cars are coming.

MALE_1: Hopefully we'll have the rules of the air ready.