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Ambulances flying over traffic in the future?

Monday, January 19, 2015
Science and Society

Quite recently, a long-standing ambition of developing the aeromobile was realised. A flying car prototype was unveiled at a technology show in Vienna, Austria. Its body is steel and carbon-based with a length of some six metres. It was reported that the vehicle had a top ground speed of 124 miles per hour with a fuel consumption of 29 miles per gallon in driving mode. A test flight was also successfully completed; its flight range being some 544 miles.

In the meanwhile, the non-military uses of drones continue to grow. More commercial drone operators are being given licences to operate in real estate photography, construction site monitoring, agriculture and film production. To date, the proposed delivery of packages to people’s homes is still up in the sky. When this occurs a quantum leap in the number of flying vehicles is to be expected. 

The movement from earth-bound roadways to aerial routes is not surprising given the number of vehicles worldwide and the projected number. In 2014, this was estimated to be 1.2 billion and this number is expected to grow to some 1.7 to two billion by 2035.

This translates to one vehicle to every six people. In 2035, there would be one vehicle for every four people. So, even with massive road-building exercises, the traffic jams are set to increase, particularly in urban areas. In T&T the situation is even worse as there is one vehicle for every two people or so.

Assuming the same rate of new vehicles entering the roadways, as has been the case for the past few years, then by 2035 we can expect some one and a half million of them on our roadways. So it would appear that some planning needs to be done and implemented, including using aeromobiles, if the roadways are to be unclogged.

This may not translate into flying cars and drones everywhere but rather some selective and judicious applications. One such may be the consideration of flying ambulances. The present traffic situation, especially during peak traffic hours, makes it difficult for ambulances to reach the hospital as fast as they should. This, despite the facilitating of the emergency vehicle by motorists shifting to create a clear lane. 

So, short of instituting a system like that which prevails for the transport of prisoners where the police clear the roadways and negate the stop lights at intersections, flying over the traffic may be an option. 

By way of information, there is the facility at Mount Hope Hospital for helicopters to land. But to access a helicopter means that the sick person has to go to the nearest helipad. The problem is that there are too few of these and thus they are not easily accessible. This situation can be resolved by flying vehicles which may be able to take off from roads or purpose-built additions. Similar landing pads would have to be constructed at the health institutions. 

Of course, new technological developments may result in the drone-car, a vehicle capable of both driving on roadways and lifting off from a spot, thus obviating the need for roads or runways for take-off. Whichever technology emerges, the era of flying vehicles for travelling over short distances in built areas is coming.

The complexities associated with defining and monitoring the aerial roadways will need careful and thoughtful consideration. The developed countries have started the process of regulating the non-traditional air travel. 

Technology diffusion from the developed to the developing world is occurring at a faster rate; many times driven by the private sector. Changes in legislation, to take into account the realities brought about new technologies, need to be driven at a faster pace if we are to benefit fully from the emerging technologies. 


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