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Visions of the Future: no airships or flying cars, but nifty nonetheless - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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November 5th, 2007

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04:47 pm - Visions of the Future: no airships or flying cars, but nifty nonetheless
In several recent and separate posts, I've seen references to two of the old standbys for visions of the future, airships and flying cars. I'm amused to see how durable both have been. Airships have become significantly less common is depictions of the future, but some people are still hopeful. I'm fairly certain the decline in portrayals of airships is at least somewhat due to more people realizing how truly hopeless a technology airships are. With top speeds that almost never exceed 100 mph, and the inability to climb above 10,000 feet, they cannot effectively outrun or climb above thunderstorms and are also vastly more vulnerable to storms and high winds than airplanes. They are beautiful, but impressively impractical.

Flying cars are no more practical, but still play a major part in lots of visions of the future, as well a few hopeless business ventures. The idea is somewhat nifty, and I expect some sort of flying car to become exceptionally useful emergency vehicles in 10-20 years. A VTOL flying ambulance or firefighting vehicle that can land anywhere is an excellent idea and also a perfectly reasonable one, because there wouldn't be many such vehicles, they will be piloted by skilled pilots, and they will be carefully maintained by emergency services personnel. Also, keeping them solely for emergency use solves the issue that there are few methods of transport that use more energy.

Sadly, none of this would be true for commercial flying cars. Computer control is an absolute necessity (to avoid people crashing into buildings because they are drinking, talking on cellphones, or simply careless), but with 3 dimensions, high winds, and other problems to take into account, the difficulties will be considerably higher than those for automatic cars. Also, no technology in infallible, and some people aren't very good at maintaining their vehicles. In such cases, some cars crash, but many manage to coast to the side of the road or otherwise avoid damage or injury when things go wrong. Given that the aerodynamics of a flying car is not dissimilar to that of a thrown brick, if something bad enough goes wrong, it drops out of the air, and may well hit a house, office building, or crowded sidewalk. Even if the tech existed, I'd vote for laws banning them, and the insurance premiums would be (rightfully) insane.

However, some visions of the future are doing very well indeed. Between the inclusion of systems like GPS, collision avoidance radar in some high-end new cars , and developments like these, mean that we're likely to have cars that can drive themselves in a decade or less. I'm certain that for insurance purposes, human drivers will be required for at least the next decade after that, but I'm betting that "driving" will mostly involve sitting there. Similarly, we also have had a host of unexpected developments like home appliances that connect to the internet, as well as wonders like the truly amazing work being done on brain implants. We're firmly in the midst of The Acceleration, but 20 years from now we won't be seeing flying cars (except possibly as emergency vehicles) and there won't be any more airships around then than there are now, but there's also a lot of stuff coming that I find considerably cooler and that I think is a lot more desirable.
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:November 6th, 2007 01:28 am (UTC)
Have you seen the DynaLifter? It can handle 30 knot crosswinds, and the freighters will cruise at 100 knots, sprinting to 120.
[User Picture]
Date:November 6th, 2007 01:33 am (UTC)
It might work for short distance (100-200 miles) hauling, but for anything further, I'd expect everything to go well until an unexpected storm or similar weather problem caused one to either fall out of the sky in pieces or crash upon landing.
Date:November 6th, 2007 02:24 am (UTC)
The forecasts were for flying cars to take over entirely from groundcars. That doesn't seem to be happening soon.

And videophones were supposed to take over from voice-only phones within a few years. They haven't.

More recent: the paperless office.
[User Picture]
Date:November 6th, 2007 02:55 am (UTC)
Video calling is beginning to catch on (primarily with cellphones), but I'm fairly certain it will remain something many phones will be able to do, but that people only use on a few occasions, because I think most people don't want to be seen by the person they're talking to, since it introduces more formality into what are typically informal phonecalls.

Until we have cheap and widely used electronic paper, I don't see any hope of a paperless office, and until there are legal changes for accountants and lawyers, paper records will remain ubiquitious.
[User Picture]
Date:November 6th, 2007 03:20 am (UTC)
I used to think HTML was stupid, but that was before essentially limitless bandwidth. I think flying cars are just waiting for the foundational technologies that will make them practical. However, I think a modular rail or tube system is going to replace most long distance driving.
[User Picture]
Date:November 6th, 2007 08:03 pm (UTC)
As was noted somewhere - we already have flying cars. They're called helicopters.

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