In 1982, Walt Disney World officials officially opened Epcot Center, inspired by Walt Disney’s plan for a utopia that would “never be completed, but will always be introducing, and testing, and demonstrating new materials and new systems.” Although the Florida attraction was not necessarily a utopian city, the park’s Future World pavilion — marked by an iconic geodesic dome — was meant to show off new technology and visions of the future.
Today in nearby Orlando, Mayor Buddy Dyer wants his city to take a similar forward-looking perspective, to become what he calls “America’s premier future-ready city.” In September, the city moved toward that vision in announcing the early steps of a plan to bring flying cars to Orlando skies — a technology that not even Disney could bring to Epcot.
“We know this technology is going to come, and we want to have the best framework in place when it does,” said Jacques Coulon, transportation planning projects coordinator for the city of Orlando. “We know that simply expanding roads and highways isn’t going to get us to the quality of life we want, so we have to think about new opportunities.”
Through a forthcoming Advanced Air Mobility Transportation Plan, Orlando officials will partner with engineering firm VHB and NASA to consider how air taxis could fit into the city’s future. Orlando is also one of five entities — and the only city — partnering with NASA on a series of air mobility workshops.
Flying cars, air taxis or aircraft with electrical vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOLs) are still, even by optimistic estimates, years away from ferrying riders. But Orlando’s forward-looking approach reflects a reality for smart cities: Departments used to dealing with roads and trains might soon have to think about mobility solutions that seem like they’re out of The Jetsons.