Innovation Series #1 - Flying Cars
I would like to challenge myself to write one article a week. In this blog I will be looking at technology innovations that either exist or should exist and why. All the ideas will be coming from my twitter feed @andrew_amann so, if you see a tweet you're interested in a deeper exploration please let me know!
Innovation for necessity
Technology typically uses machinery and equipment to enhance the human experience, either making life easier or accomplishing objectives more rapidly. Our agency is directly involved in solving problems using software technology allowing us to constantly innovate on previous software solutions.
I am cognizant that not all technology should be implemented, and innovation is about determining that the right technology means doing the research to understand how the solution will affect the end user. It is the responsibility of our entire team to weigh out the consequences that technology will bring as the user experiences the application. Will it replace jobs? Will it cause damage? Can the technology be exploited for negative connotations? These are the questions we must ask ourselves when taking on a project.
Sometimes explanations are best represented by concrete examples. So, let's go concrete while using an extreme example that is fascinatingly misunderstood as a crowning technical innovation most humans believe will exist: flying cars.
Flying cars should not exist due to the human experience related to the technology.
There are two engineered systems that have been discovered to generate enough thrust to lift a human off the ground - propellers and propulsive nozzles. Both systems fundamentally create lift from the force created by the propellers and nozzles to counteract drag.
Simply put, we have discovered how to fly around the skies. The next step is to remove the congestion that 2D road system create and use innovative technology to convert vehicles to three dimensional birds, right?
It is more complicated than solving the technology challenge of flying cars.
We have by now all heard the humming noise a drone makes as it passes by. The hum is caused by the beating of the air the propellers undergo to create lift on the load it is supporting. The heavier the load, the louder the hum. Helicopters, or in theory flying cars, will have the same loudness just at a lower frequency due to the larger propellers not needing to spin as fast. Now imagine 10, 20 or 30 helicopters traveling to work in the same airspace as you walk on the streets just hundreds of feet below?
Ideally, many of the videos we see show have a form of jet propulsion which is the conversion of a working gas into propulsive force we call a jet. These engines can be controlled to create both lift and propulsion - just like a helicopter and can accelerate much faster due to the ability to break the sound barrier. The noise a jet engine produces are obviously many decibels higher than a propeller. Engineers can only improve the sound to certain decibels using some newly invented mechanisms but at a certain point the laws of thermodynamics will not allow you to do any less work to create lift.
This brings us to the innovation challenge. Surely, we have the technology capable of creating a flying car - in fact, there are a few on the market today. The arguments revolve around cost and scalability to deploy to the eager masses. However, the technologists should think about the consequences of deploying such technology to their users - not in the form of product market fit - but in the form of social acceptability. It does not seem feasible that society would sacrifice efficiency over noise pollution.
At 923 Digital, we review inbounds every month to help a client determine the viability of building a product. Understanding the innovation required to enhance a customer's experience in new technology is one of the most important aspects of the engagement. Our team must understand how the end customers will behave and interpret a new design, process flow or form factor. Thought experiments like the ability to build flying cars is a notable example to demonstrate that reviewing all experiences around the end product is vital in the pitch. To continue to be experts, 923 Digital must always think in the future while building in the present.