Will we fly to work by 2060?

How will we get to and from work in 2060? We can’t exactly tell what the future of transportation will look like, but we can describe broad outlines of a possible future. What kind of a world do we want to create for our children and our grandchildren, and will we have the courage to make the right decisions?

The following statements were made in the context of the current #Window2TheFuture campaign. They are intended to encourage sustainable thinking, and are not tied to any investment recommendation. 

Do you know the feeling of being stuck in traffic? Losing time you don’t necessarily have can be annoying. By 2060 we may very well be flying to work instead of having to commute by classical means of transportation. In the following, we are going to look at what such a future could look like and we ask ourselves which decisions that we are facing today will have the biggest impact.

How long until we commute with flying vehicles 
Imagine being able to travel short and medium distances by using a personal or a shared flying vehicle. Uber showed us a glimpse into such a possible future in a short video they made about an – as of yet - fictional product named Uber Air, coining it “The future of urban mobility”. This is certainly a bold claim to make - at a time when other, well-funded companies like Tesla are struggling to properly mass-produce something as comparatively simple like the Model 3.

But as enticing as the premise of flying to work in something resembling a flying car might sound, we’re still a long way from anything that is even remotely ready for the mass-markets. Below, we are outlining three main areas where significant advances need to be made to bring this technology to consumers. The decisions we are making today as consumers and investors will shape how and in which direction these technologies are evolving.

High-density buildings define future cities
With about 70 percent of people living in urban areas by 2060, one of the key factors in enabling wide-spread adoption of personal flying vehicles will be the implementation of VTOL technology. The Vertical Take-Off and Landing technology enables the vehicle to set off without the need for a runway, thus allowing them to fly from and to pretty much anywhere. An area the size of a basketball court would be enough for four or more vehicles taking-off/landing at the same time. Rooftops of high-rises and skyscrapers are another largely untapped place we could be using. In the Uber Air video they are calling them skyports. Especially with what real estate developers are calling high-density building, these might become the prime place to land with future flying vehicles. Currently we’re used to entering a building from the ground and taking an elevator to the floor we want to get to. Maybe in the future we’ll mostly enter buildings from the roof and take the elevator down to where we want to go.

Self-learning algorithms need to be improved
The second area is a combination of UX design, voice interfacing and the AI needed to safely and efficiently control not just one flying car but to eventually design a system where the independent nodes are connected with each other in such a way that the risk of accidents or any sort of traffic jam can be avoided or at the very least almost reduced to zero. We see this technology in cars already today that will automatically slow down if they get too close to the car ahead of them. This technology is currently still in its infancy and that is on roads, in an environment where decisions have to be made on only two axes. Translating the same technology to three axes will require more efficient self-learning algorithms, guaranteed stable connectivity between the nodes and generally more processing power to self-organize.

More energy dense batteries need to be developed
The third and one of the most important areas is the development of more capable batteries. The dilemma here is that even today we could easily build a battery that would theoretically enable a flying car to fly continuously for a few hours, but such a battery would be far too heavy and in day-to-day use too slow to charge for it to be used in a vehicle made for 2-4 people. The current prototype of a flying car by a company called Blackfly has a maximum range of 25 miles at a top speed of 70 mph. While prototypes like these can serve as proof-of-concept, the technology that will ultimately end up being successful on the mass market will go further and faster. That’s why we need to develop lighter, more energy efficient batteries that can be quickly charged in-between stops via some sort of quick-charging technology, ideally via conductive wireless charging as well to maximize the ease of the user experience. While there are several companies researching in a multitude of directions, making the right decisions needed to actualize the vision of something like a flying car ultimately takes a lot of courage and the belief that the future is worth investing in.

Formel E serves as test bed for e-mobility
Early on, we at Julius Baer recognized the potential of Formula E. The racing series represents so much more than just motor sports. It serves as a test bed for innovations. As the founding Global Partner of Formula E, we contribute to the development and testing of future technologies. Formula E is a source of inspiration for electric mobility. At Julius Baer, we believe that e-mobility will provide a significant contribution to stopping climate change – from electric racing cars through to energy-producing algae. 

We are in control of how we want to live in the future. Within the context of our #Window2TheFuture campaign, we ask ourselves questions such as: Will we fly to work in 2060? Will we produce electricity from algae in 2060? Will drones have replaced trucks in 2060? 

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