Ah, the cry of we-want-the-future-now folks has been "where's my flying car?" Well, a very simple version of one may finally be coming to market. A year ago, we noted that the Terrafugia Transition "roadable aircraft" had been approved by the FAA for flight as a light sports aircraft (meaning you don't even need a full pilots license). But it apparently took another year for the Transition to get the necessary "exemptions" from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to let the thing go on the road.
In case you're wondering why it needed exemptions, the LA Times has the details:
So what kinds of special exemptions does a "roadable aircraft" (best name ever) need? Well, special windows, for one. Regular laminated automotive safety glass is too heavy for the Transition while in the air, and there's always a danger that a bird could fracture it. (Dang birds!) Instead of glass windows, the Transition will use a polycarbonate material less prone to shattering. NHTSA also signed off on the use of special tires.
Now, of course, this isn't really the Jetsons-like vision of the flying car people have talked about for ages. The reason it's called a "roadable aircraft" rather than a "flying car" is that the emphasis here is definitely on the aircraft part, and you still have to take off and land at an airport. It's just that you can drive to and from the airport in the same vehicle. And it'll only set you back $250,000 (about $50,000 more than what was reported last year). By the time it actually hits the market next year, perhaps it'll cost even more.
The joking lamentation of those who were promised, back during the 20th century, of a magical Jetsons-like future in the 21st century, is the famous "but, where's my flying car?" Apparently, it's on the way. Sort of. The FAA is apparently about to give approval to the Transition, which its maker, Terrafugia, refers to as a "roadable aircraft" (catchy!) rather than a flying car. It's basically a car that has foldout wings, which can then be used to take off and land at airports. Not quite the Jetsons flying car of the future, but it's progress, right?
We had noted that there were still a bunch of companies working on flying cars, even as some of the more well known attempts have remained permanently grounded. And, of course, as people will be quick to point out in the comments (I'm sure), the idea of flying cars scares the hell out of some people, since they expect it to mean a lot more air crashes and resulting deaths. Those folks might not be thrilled to note that since this is classified as a light sports aircraft, rather than a full airplane, it doesn't require a full pilot's license -- but instead just needs 20 logged hours of flight.
There are some cool things about the Transition, such as the fact that it uses standard unleaded car fuel, rather than airplane fuel, and the fact that it's designed to fit in a garage when the wings are folded up. But, at $200,000, with rather limited range and cargo holding ability, I wouldn't worry too much about these things becoming particularly common any time soon.
We were quite surprised to find no further calls for delays on the switchover to digital over the air TV from analog -- but we're not at all surprised to find out that the actual switchover happened with relatively few problems. Sure there are some people who are confused or who are having difficulty getting their new converter boxes working properly, but there's been no catastrophic failure or problems, and most of the issues seem to have been resolved pretty quickly. Perhaps the gov't really did need a few extra months, but my guess is that the same thing likely would have happened back in February... or if we had done the switchover years ago. So, now can we put the old spectrum to good use, finally?
Separately, the EFF is noting that (once again) it appears that Hollywood lied and exaggerated its claim that it needed a broadcast flag that would stop DVR copying of digital TV or it would start pulling content off the air. Funny thing... that didn't happen. As the EFF notes:
Entertainment industries like to argue that they "need" DRM to make works available. And policymakers have eagerly adopted this argument. But when the bluff is called, it turns out that the DRM wasn't so necessary after all.
So will our politicians recognize this? Or will they continue to believe Hollywood, everytime it insists it needs some new kind of DRM with legal backing from the gov't?
The transition to digital TV, and the shutdown of analog broadcasts, is set to finally go ahead on June 12, after a four-month delay was put into place by Congress. The delay capped off a process that's been pretty bungled from the outset, though things seem to have mostly come together over the last couple of months. Still, though, stories emerge about the 3 million or so homes that aren't ready for the transition, despite the time and money that's been spent on informational campaigns about it. It's been a pleasant surprise to see these stories largely unaccompanied by calls for further delays. The number of unprepared homes has fallen by half since the delay was announced in February, and a good way to get most of the rest (assuming they actually care) to follow would seem to be to go ahead and flip the switch. At this point, if people haven't caught on, perhaps it's the only way to get them to do so. And just in case any Techdirt readers are in that 2.8 million, hit dtv.gov or call 1-888-CALL-FCC to get info and/or help.
There has been plenty of concern over the past year, that the FCC isn't really prepared for the shift from analog tv signals to digital tv signals that will happen early next year. While the recent switchover test in Wilmington, N.C. didn't go that badly, the LA Times notes that the FCC still received calls from 797 residents in the city on the first day and 424 more on the second day. While the FCC points out that this is less than one-half of one percent of the 180,000 TV-viewing households the changeover impacted, this still should throw up some warning signs for the big switchover.
First of all, in the test region, the FCC did a much bigger education campaign than has been done nationwide. On top of that, the percentage of households in Wilmington impacted by the change (those who don't use cable or satellite TV) was only 8%, compared to 12% in the rest of the country. Some quick and dirty math suggests this could mean somewhere just under a million calls to the FCC for the big changeover. While the FCC staffed up to take the calls, you'd have to imagine they'll have to staff up a lot more to take a million calls over the course of a couple days. Perhaps they can hire all those telemarketers who the telemarketing industry insisted would be put out of work by the "Do Not Call" list...