Thanks to Sci-Fi movies over the last several decades, flying cars are the first thing that comes to mind when people think about Personal Air Transportation System (PATS). What also helps, is the fact that we are exposed to these “cars” as huge technology companies keep announcing their progress on developing “flying cars.” As a result, we are overly optimistic about driving our own flying machines to work in the very near future. However, this Sci-Fi vision of the future is not as near as movies would have us believe.

As the world’s population grows and moves to urban centers (by 2050 almost 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities), the need for new transportation methods rapidly increases. In a report from the Brookings Institute, Anthony Downs evaluates several future transportation options to deal with the rising traffic congestion, but all of them have major drawbacks. While charging peak-hour tolls gives most people financial burdens, expanding road infrastructure needs greater land. Therefore, experts from NASA and EU have launched projects on PATS, believing that PATS is a better choice for future mid-range trips from 50 to 500 miles.

The main component of PATS, Personal Air Vehicles (PAV) are defined differently by experts. Rather than the “self-owned flying car”, PAVs are not necessarily cars, and nor are they owned or maintained by us, because NASA experts believe that fractional ownership can offer more benefits through increased utilization. Therefore, rather than “fly” to our workplace from home, in the future, we need to go to close-by airports to operate the vehicles from there.

A natural extension from the PAVs is the On-Demand Aviation (ODA), which is an air taxi service. In 2016, Uber outlined its vision in a white paper for the VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) service, named as Uber Elevate. In Uber’s view, the cost of developing basic infrastructure for Uber VTOL is much lower than building bridges, roads, and tunnels. Reusing some unused land near highways, existing helipads, and tops of parking garages can create an extensive and distributed network for VTOL hubs.

No matter who will operate the vehicles, all the experts identified two major critical technology priorities for vehicle designs.

First, future PAVs should achieve ease of control and improved operational safety. The current complex control system for aircrafts should be simplified because future PAVs will be piloted by people without specialized knowledge. As Dr. Jozsef Rohacs explains, the control system of the PAVs should not be more complex than an ordinary car control system. The improved operational safety can be achieved by creating a “variable autonomy relationship between an intelligence vehicle and its user.” The user can either choose to let the vehicle have more autonomy or take a firm control over the vehicle while the vehicle still provides hazard awareness and warnings. 

Second, future PAVs should decrease their noise levels to be accepted by communities. Since small airports for PAVs will be built closer to densely populated areas, it is important for them to not disrupt normal activities. While the current noise regulations are less based on people’s acceptance, as NASA scientists pointed out, the noise level for aircrafts should at least complete a ten times reduction to be accepted. Experts already agree that reducing the noise level is technically achievable. There are multiple ways to deal with the noisiest part of aircrafts—propellers, and using ducted propellers is one of the ways.  

Another expert, Missy Cumming explains that there aren’t any technological hurdles to PATS. The world’s first ultralight all-electric, fixed-wing VTOL aircraft—BlackFly—revealed in 2018 by a technology company called OPENER is an example. The BlackFly has all the basic features required for the future PAVs. While the BlackFly still needs time to perfect its abilities and functions, there is no new disruptive technology needed.

However, building up PATS requires more than technical possibility. A new set of small airports has to be built, with charging stations and maintenance facilities for PAVs. In another Brookings report, experts doubt that people will use the limited resources to invest in the future given that they have already struggled to maintain current transportation facilities. It is hard for people to recognize the importance of PAVs in the future. Even NASA’s Vehicle System Program (VSP) was replaced by the Fundamental Aeronautics Program due to a lack of investment for small aircrafts.

In addition, establishing PATS requires a new set of air traffic rules. Because the PAVs will use the airspace under the space for current air traffic, it is essential to separate the space used by the unprofessional and the space used by the professional, and to pass laws to regulate air drivers’ behaviors. And anything related to policy legislation will be a long battle among powers. A battle can be expected to happen between the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and local Departments of Motor Vehicle for the authority on PAVs.

The biggest difficulties for PATS come from psychological hurdles; people might worry about the flight risks and may not be ready to give up cars just yet. Although most people know that aviation is the safest transportation option, they will not feel the same way when unprofessional air drivers start to pilot. It will take time to persuade people that future PAVs are safer, even with unprofessional drivers.

As society advances, people will need faster transportation to save time and create benefits. PATS is an inevitable step towards a more interconnected world. But though PAVs are already around the corner, we need more time to incorporate them into our society by establishing the institutions that will allow the global publics to feel safe and accept this new mode of transportation. To achieve the goal, a jointed effort is required. On the one hand, scientists need to develop more perfect prototypes. On the other hand, experts in the public sector need to establish more institutions, such as legislation or organizations, to give researchers confidence to invest money and time into this industry..

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.

And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.

It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.

In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.

Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.

This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?

We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?

Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?

Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.

Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.

These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
Rong Qin
Rong Qin is a Washington, DC based correspondent for Diplomatic Courier.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.