Drones flying over Honolulu cityscape, Hawaii, United States Colin Anderson/Getty Images

Flights of Unmanned Fancy

The dream of personal aerial transport appears tantalizingly within reach, as investors from Silicon Valley to Dubai vow to deliver the future of urban mobility. But rather than embracing that vision, policymakers should consider why flying cars are not only unpractical, but also unnecessary.

BOSTON – Few pieces of modern hardware have inspired as much excitement as the drone. While nonmilitary unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were initially marketed as purely recreational gadgets, it has not taken long for entrepreneurs and industrial giants to seize on the endless possibilities they offer. Annual sales in the United States are expected to reach seven million units by 2020, and many are already predicting a future in which drones reshape our cities – through remote delivery of goods, airborne surveillance, or as yet unforeseen applications.

Yet one possibility has captured our collective imagination more than any other: the idea that drones will soon be moving people over cities en masse. Might flying taxis one day pluck us from our front gardens and delicately plop us down outside the cinema or our favorite restaurant?

Before we mentally hail the next air cab, let’s consider what it would actually mean if the skies were filled with swarms of miniature helicopters ferrying people to their next destination. Though drones will have many important uses in the future, I do not believe moving people around cities will, or should, be one of them.

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