Flying cars–finally!

It’s really exciting to see more developments on the flying car front and demonstrations such as the autonomous flight displayed by the Cormorant from Urban Aeronautics. For SF obsessed people like myself, the concept of flying cars has been a dream for at least the last fifty years. And who can possibly forget the Jetsons?

Unfortunately, reality has been a few steps behind the dream for quite a while. But now we’re on the verge of breakthroughs in materials technology, computational capability and lightweight power-sources hat will finally turn these symbols of the future into everyday conveniences!

From my perspective, this is not only something I’ve waited to see since being a kid. It’s also an idea that features heavily in my up-coming novel Mathematics Of Eternity, in which my lead character flies cabs in twenty-second century Baltimore.

In my future vision, flying cars–or aeromobiles as I call them–are common-place, partly for convenience, but also because coastal cities have been flooded to a greater or lesser extent, due to rising sea levels and as a result moving around on the ground is seen as a somewhat risky endeavor.

The first of the links above talks about some of the challenges involved with such vehicles. Don’t expect these to be controlled solely by humans. By necessity they will be semi-autonomous, with the drivers “guiding” them, but also paired with traffic management systems to cope with the mass of low level air-traffic. As well as avoidance systems within the vehicles, there would undoubtedly need to be some kind of centralized coordinating system to ensure safety of the vehicles themselves, as well as general safety of the populace. I envisage different control zones, where the cars are allowed to be more independent outside urban zones and more controlled over cities and dense population areas, in much the same way that we have more rigidly defined (and enforced) regulations covering regular cars at the moment.

What’s kind of cool to me, is that while I was working on my novel I came up with an idea of what my lead character’s cab might look like and to my eye, it’s not too different in configuration from the Urban Aeronautics Cormorant! Take a look:

In my design, I shrouded the turbines (thinking of safety in an urban environment) but, overall I think they have a similar layout. Also remember that the current designs being tested are really at the dawn of flying car technology. I’ve no doubt they’ll evolve significantly the way cars have. But at least we’re finally seeing the first steps to flying car heaven!

Bad SciFi Architecture, No Hyper-Twinkie…

Space is strange. Space is big–very, very big. It’s cold, it’s hot, it’s dangerous, it’s tranquil. It is everything and nothing. In short, it is so different from where we are now that only the noisiest of authorities would find it well received.

But above all else, scifi architecture is the strangest.

I’ve been doing some 3D modelling recently while putting together a trailer for my upcoming novel, and as a result I’ve been browsing a lot of concept art. There are some incredibly talented artists out there, but something that often baffles me is the vision of space architecture.

By that, I’m not talking about external ship design. We have no idea what such ships might look like–not having developed warp drive, hyperdrive, or any of the endless variants yet–so any guess is pretty much as good as any other (although most spaceships/starships will consist largely of fuel tanks and radiator fins, and as such are unlikely to have much in the way of pleasing aesthetics.) But when it comes to scifi interiors… Well, take a look at these:

The image on the left  is a Victorian era bedroom. Note the fancy arched doors, the ornate multilevel ceiling with complex carved wood and plaster detail. Can you imagine Continue reading “Bad SciFi Architecture, No Hyper-Twinkie…”

Update From A Pale Blue Dot

I mostly talk about writing and astronomy on this blog, as those are among my main interests, but these topics aren’t disconnected from the rest of events happening in the world. Astronomy not only gave us an unprecedented knowledge of space, it also provided us with our first real understanding of our position in the universe. And it was a humbling perspective.

In his famous “Pale Blue Dot” speech, Carl Sagan said:

“We succeeded in taking that picture, and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives.”

“To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

The fact is that now, over 20 years after he made this address we are still not looking after the world and the consequences of that are truly frightening.

Recent news is a mixed bag, in the Netherlands the national railway is now operating its trains on 100% electricity generated from wind power. A great example of hat can be achieved. Yet, at the same time, reports show that the global average tax  on petrol/gasoline has dropped by 13 percent over the last 12 years–leading to subsequent increases in consumption, and the release of even more greenhouse gases.

Despite the recent news that renewable energy supplies are now cheaper than fossil fuels, there are still only limited attempts to switch over. The obvious question is–why? The obvious answer is “powerful, vested interests” in the fossil fuels industry. This desperately needs to change.

Although astronomers have now identified over a thousand exo-planets, not one of these is known to be suitable for harboring life. Even if they did tease out the information that one of the planets can sustain human life, thy are so remote as to be unreachable in any but the most long-term view. Using our  current technology reaching Proxima–the closest star–would take us thousands of years. Even if we had some unexpected breakthrough, we would still be talking hundreds of years to transport people there.

Earth is it. Our only hope for the foreseeable future. We need to protect it, so that it can nurture us until we develop sufficiently to move into the stars. If we don’t, the result will be extinction.

Some people think we can’t afford to take the measures necessary, but the real question is–can we afford not to?

More On Extraterrestrial life

I’ve speculated a couple of times on the possibilities of life on other planets (Life Everywhere and Water, Ceres and Life for example). Now we have more information to add to the growing likelihood that life is likely to be found anywhere that the right conditions exist, no matter how remote they may seem.

Recent discussion suggests that microbial life may exist in the dark clouds within the Venusian atmosphere, while other research shows yet more evidence that Mars may also have, at least at one time, been hospitable to life.

Planning for new missions to both worlds is currently underway and may finally confirm these speculations in the not too distant future. If it does, it will be a great day for the world and especially the exobiologists trying to determine the course that life may take outside the realms of our small planet.

Hopefully this will happen soon, and I stand firmly behind my “prediction” that we will find life everywhere. The nature of chemistry seems to naturally move in the direction of life-supporting compounds, making  and almost inevitably to life itself. Just imagine–the entire galaxy or even universe as one giant breeding ground for living organisms in all their myriad forms.

Just what might we find out there…? (Cue Twilight Zone music…)

Superstrong and superlight Graphene

Researchers at MIT have developed techniques for creating 3d graphene materials that are incredibly strong and lightweight. With tested strengths as much as ten times higher than steel while having only 5% of the weight (density).

The materials make use of structures called “gyroids”–a kind of sponge-like arrangement–to create three-dimensional structures with potential applications for building components for vehicles and other machinery.

Graphene has been known as a high tensile material for quite a while, but only in single-atom thick sheets that have limited practical uses. This new development could make it’s adoption far more widespread. It also may avoid some of the flaws caused by imperfections that naturally occur in such thin sheets.

The exciting thing here though is the potential for use in rocket and spacecraft design. When it comes to launching anything into space, the limit is always a case of the mass (weight) versus the thrust available. Simply put, the lighter the object you’re lifting, the easier it is to launch. So materials such as this could revolutionize space systems.

More than that though, the gyroid structure can be applied to other materials too, enabling the creation of lighter weight versions of things like actual steel, concrete, and others. With the world’s resources limited, it is only sensible to be as efficient as we can wherever possible.

We seem to be on the threshold of a whole new world of materials science where we can control and build materials down to atomic (and smaller?) levels–an exciting time for engineers everywhere as well as those of us who dream of seeing humans spread to other worlds.