Cultural Production and Flying Cars

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At the moment I live my life straddling two continents, and two lifestyles. I reside in the USA, work in Italy and am about to live in the Netherlands. America, the land of gasoline guzzling 6 liter motorized beasts, guns and spelling mistakes. Italy, style and chaos and colourful politics, and the Netherlands, bikes, wind and water.

Each world has its advantages and styles, and we can see and trace each culture through its social and cultural production. Let us take the example of the flying car.

In Italy the population boasts more cars per head than any other country in Europe. The streets are teaming, it takes hours to drive across any major city and city dwellers suffer from late life hearing loss due to the constant blast of the horns (only joking, I made that bit up).

So back in the 1940’s while the rest of Europe was trying to rebuild after the war, Italian engineers designed and built a 3 wheeled flying car. See the video here on Pathe’.

The 3 wheel model is and was typical of Italian motor production at the time, and as we shall see later proved to be a winner. One of my favourite historical forms of transport is the “Ape”, and this is only the latest in a long line of vehicles of this type. The idea is simple, get a motorbike or scooter, attach a box to sit in and a back section with a pair of trailer wheels and you are away.

If you see the photo below the similarities to the flying car are incredible!

Vespa Ape

Vespa Ape

In the USA developments have been afoot for some time too. Below we see a less stylish but equally practical version of the flying car, this time built (and crashed) in 1947 by Theodore P. Hall. Unfortunately the craft ran out of gas and was ruined, but it did fly.

USA Built flying car

USA Built flying car

Today in the US a company called Terrafuggia is marketing a flying car. As you see below, it looks more or less like a little car, you drive it to the airstrip, transform it into an aircraft and fly home to your ranch with airstrip in the Midwest. A wonderful idea if you live in a spacious area.

Terrafuggia flying car

Terrafuggia flying car

Now here in the Netherlands there is too much water and wind for a craft of that type, so in the Netherlands engineers have taken a different route to the above. The Pal V1 has taken the Dutch love for bikes and made one that flies (it has 3 wheels like the original Italian model but looks a bit more like an off baby carriage).

The Dutch flying car

The Dutch flying car

It is an autogyro, so it has a rotor instead of wings, so can fly at low speed and take off with a short runway (incidentally the windier it is the shorter the take off, so ideal here). It is also classed as a motorbike so the rules for driving one are those of riding a motorbike. And this is also why the Ape exists in Italy too, presumably also the flying version, and the Reliant Robin in the UK, you can drive them with a motorbike license. In the case of Italy if the engine is small enough you don’t even need a license!

So here is the conclusion, culture and geography produce inventions in their own style and incorporate the characteristics of the land and its population. This is plain to see if you work within the innovation field in the USA and Europe.

While in Europe the ‘precautionary principle’ reigns, (don’t do it until you can prove it is safe), In the USA the opposite principal rules, (do it until someone can prove that it is dangerous). The differences are plain to see, but more on that in later posts.

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Jonny Hankins

Author of the 2012 ebook "A Handbook for Responsible Innovation" (99c from Amazon), Jonny works for the Bassetti Foundation in Milan publishing articles on innovation and responsibility on their website and also blogging about his interests. He is on the editorial board of the Journal of Responsible Innovation and a member of the Integrated Network for Social Sustainability.

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