Silicon Valley's Obsession With Flying Cars Flies In The Face Of Business Logic

This article first appeared as an op-ed on my column in Forbes.

Bemoaning the state of innovativeness, Peter Thiel-- don of the PayPal mafia, Silicon Valley VC, and most recently revealed as the nemesis of Gawker -- remarked, "We asked for flying cars. Instead, we got a hundred and forty characters. It seems Thiel's moans have been heard by no less than Google/Alphabet's Larry Page, who has quietly been investing in, not one but, two flying car start-ups, Zee Aero and Kitty Hawk. Page, of course, has only taken a page out of the books of other pioneering legends, who have shared this strange obsession. The obsession dates back even to pioneering legends who knew a tad more about cars than Messrs. Page and Thiel; Henry Ford tried his hand at it and even managed to get a person killed in his own pursuit of a flying car. Of course, the industry is far from take-off; the only successful situation involving a flying Ford I am aware of is of Ron Weasly flying a 1962 Ford Angilia to rescue Harry Potter in The Chamber of Secrets. But I digress...

Many readers would be surprised to learn that there is, indeed, a fledgling flying car industry. I visitedTerrafugia, based outside Boston, last year and got a look at their product. While impressed by the technology, their vision for where it is going and the passion behind "creating the transportation of the future today," I was still left asking:

Who asked for flying cars?

Silicon Valley high fliers, of course, are asking for it. They have, after all, been obsessed with cars of many kinds -- self-driven, electric, enabled by iPhone commands. Given that so much of Silicon Valley travels in company buses (arguably, a more efficient and greener mode of transport than any of these alternatives) I am a bit alarmed at the prospect of a proliferation of new car options, especially of the flying kind.

If I were Larry Page, I would, first, ask: is there a sufficient and urgent unmet need for it?

Furthermore, are there other needs that are both unmet and urgent and over time will have an effect on Silicon Valley's bottom line? This may get us about as far as one can think from flying cars.

Let's talk about flying toilets.

Read the rest of the article in my column in Forbes.

Bhaskar Chakravorti is the Senior Associate Dean of International Business & Finance at The Fletcher School at Tufts University. He is also the founding Executive Director of Fletcher's Institute for Business in the Global Context and author of the book, "The Slow Pace of Fast Change."