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Three futuristic products you'll never own

No, you won't drive a flying car, wear augmented reality glasses or use a virtual reality PC

April 7, 2012 07:00 AM ET

Computerworld - The future isn't what it used to be. Futurists of yesteryear once predicted that by the year 2000 we'd be driving nuclear-powered cars, eating food in pill form and living in domed cities.

It never happened. But why?

Prognosticating pundits of the past predicted those things because technology could make them possible. They forgot that the fact that something was possible didn't necessarily make it desirable. Technology evolves, but the human brain doesn't. The reason many futurists fail is because they forget to factor in what people want.

If you've been reading the news lately, you've no doubt heard that three amazing technologies that futurists have predicted for decades are now on the brink of being available to consumers: Flying cars, augmented reality glasses and virtual reality computers.

Yes, the technology is real. The products might even ship. But you, personally, are very unlikely to ever buy or use any of them.

Why? Because you won't want to.

Why you won't drive a flying car

Futurists have imagined flying cars for more than 100 years. The dream is about a family car that can take off and fly over the traffic, land at home and park in the garage. One key component of the dream is that the miracle of flight is democratized and available to everyday families.

We've long been told that a real flying car is just a few years from reality. And now we're being told that reality is about to happen.

A company called Terrafugia recently announced that its "flying car," called the Transition, will be shown at the New York International Auto Show this week.

"The World's First Flying Car is Finally Here," screamed numerous headlines.

And, in fact, the Terrafugia Transition appears to be an impressive vehicle. It has four wheels, foldable wings and takes regular gas, rather than special aviation fuel.

A video released by the company shows the Transition pulling out of a suburban garage, driving on regular roads, stopping to fill up at a local gas station and then proceeding to an airport, where it takes off into the sky.

Yay! We'll all soon be flying to work every day, right? Wrong.

The reason you and I won't own one is that the Terrafugia Transition doesn't fit any of the criteria dangled before our dazzled eyes by futurists. It's not really a flying car.

The Transition is what airplane nerds call a "roadable aircraft." It's an airplane with modifications that make it possible to drive it on streets legally.

Because it's an airplane, all the rules, costs, certifications, training and more apply. You'll need to be an experienced and certified pilot with special training to fly a Transition. You'll have to take off and land at airports, plan your flights and monitor the weather, participate in the air traffic control system, stay within approved airspace and all the rest. The Transition is certified as a "Light Sport Aircraft," so its use is more limited even than a regular Cessna.

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