"Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads," Doc Brown says, before flipping down his reflective goggles and launching his nuclear-powered DeLorean into the air.
If you think you've heard that line too many times, try being Paul DeLorean. He's not just the nephew of John DeLorean, founder of the short-lived automaker that's now best remembered for its car's starring role as a time machine in the Back to the Future movies. He is the CEO and chief designer of DeLorean Aerospace, the company he founded in 2012 to develop a real life flying car.
Earlier generations of DeLoreans worked as coach builders, so although he may cringe at the name recognition he has accepted it. "We've been in transportation forever—it's in my blood," he says.
That heritage has led him into one of the hottest areas of transportation development today. He plans to build a two-seat vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) personal air transport vehicle (what the rest of the world calls a flying car). That moves him well out of sci-fi movie cliche territory and into the company of Uber, Airbus, Darpa, Larry Page, and a ton of startups.
Experts working in the field say that, as far-fetched as flying cars sound, the confluence of new lightweight materials, better batteries, and sophisticated computer controls means these visions—like Uber's plan to launch a flying fleet in Dubai by 2020—aren't unrealistic.
Add the business model of ride-sharing, which removes the up-front purchase cost, and there's even a business case for getting these things to work in cities. The really tricky part, though, will be figuring out how to safely deploy these things, especially when it comes to air traffic control and certification.