Traffic Jam in the Sky?
CEO Kitty Hawk
CEO Kitty Hawk
Do you hate traffic? I do.
Being routinely stuck in highway traffic during my daily commute is no fun.
So what could happen if our cars could fly?
The answer might surprise you.
Take US-101, a major highway in Silicon Valley, which is frequently congested during rush hour. This highway has three lanes in each direction. Say you put this highway into the sky as a virtual highway (similar to the jetways used for routing airplanes). If you wanted to extend the highway from 3 to 30 lanes, one could do so simply by using 10 vertical flight levels, separated by 100 feet each. Or by extending the highway to 6 parallel lanes in 5 flight levels. And away from airports, you could do this without disrupting existing air traffic. Very few airplanes today travel below 1,000 feet above ground level in Silicon Valley or elsewhere – except near airports, of course. We could fit this new kind of traffic right into our National Airspace.
On the ground, a lot of time is wasted in traffic at intersections. Traffic intersections are locusts of conflict: multiple cars wishing to proceed in different, conflicting directions. So we invented stop signs and traffic lights to keep cars from bumping into each other. In the sky, planes don’t stop and wait. This is because they can be routed at different flight levels. Today’s eastbound flights already use different default altitudes from westbound traffic. That same logic can be applied to separate “flying cars” as eVTOL (Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing) vehicles are sometimes called.
There is a deep mathematical reason why the sky is so much vaster than the ground. A road is a one-dimensional manifold, whereas the sky is three-dimensional. A 1,000 feet single lane road provides space for roughly 64 cars, bumper-to-bumper. But you can fit over 1.7 million cars into a cube of size 1,000 times 1,000 times 1,000 feet.
Of course, this is just a Gedankenexperiment. We could never fly that closely together. But this illustrates the sheer limitless potential of the sky.
Our vision at Kitty Hawk is to free the world from traffic. For this vision to become reality, we don’t have to build new infrastructure. Unlike the nation’s highways, which require enormous resources for construction and maintenance, the highways in the sky don’t require any pavement.
The FAA has done a remarkable job on air traffic deconfliction. Mid-air collisions are extremely rare. Thanks to the FAA, we have safe procedures that prevent collisions even when flying in clouds with malfunctioning communication equipment. That same logic might be leveraged for this new type of air traffic. Obviously, this will be a colossal task, but I see no principal reason why this will not be possible along with the collaboration of the FAA.
We should think of the National Airspace as a new resource, one that is vastly underutilized. Let’s utilize it. Let’s go where there are no roads. Let’s – once and forever – free the world from traffic.
CEO Kitty Hawk