It’s usually not hard to spot technology’s clear-cut winners and outright dogs. But every year IEEE Spectrum’s editors cross rhetorical swords over a few candidate projects. In the name of peace, we thought we’d let you decide
No matter where you travel, the locals seem to drive like a bunch of maniacs. But now a company named Parajet, in Mere, England, wants to let you rise above the gridlock caused by the talkers, texters, eaters, shavers, and makeup artists who drive with a foot on the accelerator and eyes on everything but the road. Later this year, the company will introduce the SkyCar, a dune buggy–style car that turns into a paraglider on…well, the fly.
The two-seater takes to the air by deploying an asymmetrical parasail “wing” and then accelerating to at least 60 kilometers an hour. Its 104-kilowatt (140 horsepower) Kawasaki motorcycle engine lets it glide at its normal cruising altitude of 900 meters at speeds up to 161 km/h (100 miles per hour), the company claims. A tankful of biodiesel is enough for a 300-km flight. The car’s also good for thrills on the ground—it goes from zero to 100 km/h in 4.2 seconds and can tackle dunes and rocky hills as well as any off-roader.
Parajet emphasizes that so long as you fly no more than 1220 meters (less than a mile) above the ground, you’ll need no credentials beyond a driver’s license. All you have to be able to do is steer a huge heap of metal by pulling on two cords.
Though the SkyCar sounds like a lot of fun, it remains to be seen how many people will spend US $80 000 just so they can skip traffic jams and get the chance to execute a rather difficult dismount in their company’s parking lot. (Check out another flying car idea Spectrum looked at a few years ago. The Dutch company behind it says it will make the street-legal aircraft available for sale in 2011.) We’re inviting you to vote on whether the SkyCar will be a success or a failure. Below are five other technology projects for you to consider. They include an electric vehicle project that uses battery-swapping stations to solve the nagging range problem, paper-thin batteries that might be used in smart credit cards, and a hands-free gaming controller that’s Microsoft’s answer to Nintendo’s Wii.