Wednesday, February 07, 2007

It's a Message From the Future-ture-ture-ture!

How many of you saw the show "2057" on the Discovery Channel a few days ago? I knew it was going to be pretty tripe-y, but even I was surprised. I thought we had given up this silly, super-futuristic prognostication back in the days of the World's Fair.

I was blown away by how absurd it was. And also, is Michio Kaku in EVERYTHING nowadays? It seems a documentary can't be made without getting him involved. Does he have any time to teach? Does he have any time to EAT?

Ok, maybe my earlier sentiment needs to be tempered. It was a decent bit of sci-fi/educational stuff. Still, I think it would have been a much better show if the predictions had been less based on how cool the prediction looks with CGI effects and how feasible the prediction actually is.

On that note, I would like to bitch and moan about that dude and his flying car. It sounds like a children's book. A Boy and His Dog, a Man and His Flying Car. Ahhhh. Regardless, I am here to tell people now, and for a very long time, WE WILL NOT HAVE FLYING CARS. Much like Michio Kaku, I see that blasted flying car in every damn documentary about cars or the future I see.

They always hold it up as though it's some kind of proof that we will, indeed, be buzzing around in the stratosphere in fifty years. No. We won't. That guy has been hawking that contraption for years and it's just as unfeasible now as it was when he first got the idea.

Let's look at it and see why. First, the argument that there's TONS of sky up there, and our traffic would never get bad enough to cause air traffic jams is stupid. Yeah. There's a boatload of sky up there, assuming even distribution over an area. But much like traffic now, people will all be going to the same place.

Imagine taking LA's clusterfucked highways and just putting them in the air. Yes, the jam wouldn't extend out as far, but the jam at the actual point of arrival, namely, the city center, would be one thousand times worse. All the people taking off and landing would cause jams and accidents the likes of which we've never seen.

And speaking of accidents, there is one advantage to the flying car. It gets rid of a statistic. We would no longer need to distinguish between fatal and non-fatal accidents. All accidents would be fatal. Much like airplanes, there's really no middle ground. You're either perfect or dead.

And yes, every now and then, airplanes enter a zone that is less-than-perfect, not-quite-dead. But, and this is a big but, they survive because of the immense skill of all involved. Planes that should have gone down land because the pilot is great, forged by thousands of hours and flight and training time.

The average, every-day driver has none of those things and there is no way that we could institute a mass, training program for flying car pilots. Just think about the idiots you meet on your morning commute. Would you actually want those people driving /flying a 3,000 pound bullet at 200mph? It's a recipe for disaster.

Now think about the way people manage their cars. The only reason we don't have planes dropping like flies is because of intense care and maintenance. Large planes are overhauled every set number of miles, and small planes are usually owned by enthusiasts who love to work on their ride. And even then, what kind of plane do you usually read about crashing? The small planes. We have a few small planes go down every year. Multiple that by one million and you begin to grasp the problem.

Imagine all of the broken down cars you see on the side of road. If those had been planes everyone would be dead. And unlike jets or small planes, flying cars would spend almost ALL their time over heavily populated areas like cities. So when a flying car "breaks down" and then "crashes down," it turns into a bomb. Cars are great precisely because they're so forgiving.

There aren't just two states, fine and dead, in a car. Car's can run safely with low maintenance. Look at all the junkers putting down the road. Those are not cars you would want in the air. You can make emergency stops in a car. If you get into an accident, you simply get out and assess the damage. No, 99% of people need that middle ground. It's a buffer between them and dead. The extreme care required for a true flying car is just not feasible. For now, and long time coming, we're stuck on the ground.

Now, that isn't to say we won't have low-level flying mass transit. I think that's very feasible. All of the problems mentioned are gone. A flying bus would have a highly trained pilot, extreme maintenance, and would be forced to fly over specific routes as to prevent mid-air accidents. In fact, a flying bus would be a great idea. Why doesn't that guy get on it?!

On a note about the Skycar specifically and not just a hypothetical flying car, it's a death trap. We have a hard time keeping our cars one engine running. The Skycar has multiple engines, ALL of which must run perfectly to keep the car in the air. Even better, they're rotary engines. Yep. The same rotary engines in Mazdas (Well, not the exact same engine). And yep, the same Mazda engines that have a tendency to blow up under heavy load. Moller's website says

"Wankel-type rotary engines in general are very reliable as a result of their simplicity. The number of moving parts in a Moller rotary engine (dual-rotor) is approximately seven percent of those in a four-cylinder piston engine."

That is a blazing simplification. Go down to the local garage and ask them about the Mazda RX-7's reliability. They'll laugh.

And also, the Skycar, but, as any flying car would probably be, is a Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft. Think about that. In the military, what kind of aircraft goes (Blackhawk) down all the time? And in airplanes, which extant airplane has the worst safety record in the military? Correct! The Harrier. The only plane with VTOL capabilities (well, it and that absurd looking Osprey).

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