The 'Godfather' of Autonomous Driving: We Gotta Wreck the Sky

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Have you ever gazed up at the sweeping blue sky and thought, God, it’s boring up there? It seems like Sebastian Thrun—who launched Google’s self-driving car program and is the CEO of the flying car startup Kitty Hawk—sure has. On Tuesday, he shared his vision of a sky clogged with tons and tons of glorious soaring metal at TechCrunch Disrupt.


“I can’t envision a future of highways [and being] stuck in cars,” said Thrun while inexplicably clutching a very good pup to his chest. “I envision a [future] where you hop in a thing, go in the air, and fly in a straight line. I envision a future where Amazon delivers my food in the air in five minutes. The air is so free of stuff and is so unused compared to the ground, it has to happen in my opinion.” [Emphasis ours.]

It’s important to note that Thrun, who TechCrunch and others have called “Autonomous driving’s godfather,” has a serious financial incentive in filling the sky with buzzing delivery drones and this strange miniature seaplane. With a stake in a number of programs that hinge on the success of flying cars, it’s no wonder he sees the wide blue yonder as the next plane for everyday transportation. And it’s true that the current state of getting around on the ground can stand to be disrupted—highways and public transportation are a mess.


But taking that mess and relocating it to the sky is not so much a solution as it is another way for tech companies to capitalize on our frustrations. For flying cars to be a success, new infrastructure would need to be built to accommodate them. And infrastructure barriers aside, this Jetsons-style vision raises some serious safety and environmental concerns. The basic dream of real-life flying cars has also been habitually delayed for at least a century.

Being “so free of stuff” isn’t necessarily a good enough reason to put more shit in the sky. How about first improving the planes of existence (and public transit systems) we all already use?