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Are robot chauffeurs what we need for flying cars?

Credit: Warner Brothers

At long last, are we on the verge of flying cars? Possibly, but not because of any technological leaps in aerial technology.

Missy Cummings, an MIT professor and former Navy pilot, is at the forefront of drone policy and technology, and says robotic drivers might be the biggest missing piece standing between us and a future full of flying cars.

In an interview in today’s Boston Globe G section, Cummings told Karen Weintraub that humans are actually the biggest obstacle to an airplane-for-every-home — and that she saw this up front and personally in her piloting days.

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“I learned that aircraft can land themselves better on aircraft carriers than I could,” she said. “It was a little humiliating.”

But that leaves hope for the rest of us.

“About 50 years ago there was this fantasy that everyone would have a flying car. That dream is closer to reality than we think, we just need to give up the flying part,” she told Weintraub. “We’re all bad drivers so we would be even worse pilots. We could have an airplane in every driveway, as long as someone else was doing the flying — i.e., automation. Once we get to where everyone has a robotic car, we’ll all be a lot safer.”

Given the amount of texting and driving I still see, I’m almost a believer. Let’s just hope our robotic chauffeurs are better at multitasking than your typical 16 year old. Read the full Q&A for more insights into the future of drone technology, including more information an iPhone-controlled rescue helicopter Cummings is working on, and check out Wednesday’s episode of NOVA, “Rise of the Drones,” at 9 p.m. on WGBH.

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