Since he as a child in Sweden, Peter Ternström wanted to make a sci-fi flying machine. In 1983 he saw The return of the Jedi five times and dreamed of zooming through the Endor Forest with a levitation speeder. But as a smart young nerd, he quickly realized that a floating vehicle was not possible.
“There was no propulsion system that worked,” he recalls with a sigh. Of course, people had been trying to make personal flying devices for decades, especially jetpacks. But the physics of the jetpack was a nightmare. Sticking an explosive fuel tank to your body and trying not to burn your legs? Not really scalable solution to personal mobility.
So Ternström put aside his youthful dream and became a dotcom millionaire by creating an online learning platform and the Swedish version of Mailchimp. Flying cars will not pass.
Except that technology is evolving in a fun way. While Ternström was doing those dot com companies, a different flight technology emerged, which did not have the problems of jetpacks: drones.
When they were first introduced in the 00’s, drones were simple toys, faltering and difficult to fly, with batteries dying out in minutes. But as the demand for fans and enthusiasts grew, so did the quality of the pieces. The engines improved and the batteries became more durable. Tilt sensors became cheap and high-quality, and open source encoders wrote software that made drones self-stabilizing and therefore easy to fly without training.
In 2012, Ternström met an old friend who had been building drones to carry cameras for the production of Hollywood films. Ternström joined him to work on some of the filming, and as he watched the drones fly, Ternström began to think: Hey, why not great drone, grab a seat and carry a human?
So did he and his partner. They formed Jetson, a company that now sells its first good-looking personal airplane model: the Jetson ONE, a $ 92,000 craft made of lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber, eight drone propellers, and many batteries. In the videos, Ternström zooms across the Italian countryside about six feet above the ground, strangely resembling that speeder Endor he had once dreamed of.
“Flying is a deeply ecstatic experience,” he tells me. “All your bird DNA from millions of years ago comes into play and says, ‘Uh, wait a second, I’ve done it before!'” -the. end of 2023. Buyers are mostly “prominent people in California. I won’t say “Mark Zuckerberg,” but, you know, around that circle. “
Ternström is one of the first to have a drone-style flying machine for sale, but it is hardly alone. Dozens of companies around the world are now manufacturing “electric vertical landing and take-off” (eVTOL) vehicles. Its aim is to introduce vehicles and gradually improve them so that, in 10 years, you can go from the city center to the airport in one, because, unlike airplanes, they do not need any runways. and they are so heavily guided by software that pilots would need little skill. (Some of these companies aim to pilot their boats remotely or fly autonomously.) Some models move the propellers sideways once in flight, so they sail in the style of an airplane. .
For eons, science fiction illustrations depicted people walking through cities in small flying vehicles. Now those Golden Age flyers could finally arrive, and “they’re just big drones,” says Chris Anderson, a drone pioneer and COO at eVTOL Kittyhawk (and former editor-in-chief of WIRED).
Think of it as a lesson in innovation – great breakthroughs don’t always come from where you might expect.
We often think that the biggest innovations come from brilliant people gathered in a lab or a corporation: Apple designers creating the smartphone, the desire for OpenAI GPT-3 coding, Tesla engineers building a really sleek electric car . But just as often, perhaps more often than not, innovation is the result of weird fans tweaking things that look silly or toy. It is precisely because these environments are of little bet that hackers and enthusiasts can gradually improve their core technologies, until they are suddenly ready to do much more ambitious things.