Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dumbasscience: Flying Cars Part 4

Dumbasscience: Science is not always smart. Oh no sir-ree-Bob. Sometimes it is just plain stupid. That's okay, I won't judge. I'll just point it out and mock it mercilessly. These articles will contain rants from history and breaking news where scientists are pursuing through-and-through bad ideas. From the 'flying your car to work' pipe-dream, to various plans of how to forcibly reverse global warming, if it's technological and perilous to rationalists, it's Dumbasscience.

Last time in Dumbasscience, I dissected just a handful of the myriad safety issues with the concept of the flying car. In this, the last installment of the Flying Cars series of Dumbasscience, I will address a few more issues with safety and expound upon the fabulously Verhoeven level of violence that would need to be employed in Sky America's law enforcement.

Think back to the last time you were on the road for a long period of time. For a road trip, perhaps. Think of all the crappy cars you saw--plastic-wrap for a driver's side window, duct-tape holding the mirror in place, a spare tire for both front wheels, and string suspiciously fastened to the windshield-wipers. Pathetic, but not too frightening at anything but the fastest and busiest interstate highways. Now put that a couple thousand feet above the ground and moving four hundred miles per hour. Suddenly that wiggling hood stops being comical and becomes a potential air-to-ground missile.

Even today, when airplanes are relatively rare compared to cars, and its operators are appropriately moderated by expense and licensing designed to keep pilots and plane owners in an extreme minority, aircraft maintenance is becoming more of a concern. Think about all the clamour in the airline industry today because some commercial companies--who employ full-time, dedicated mechanics--aren't keeping their fleets in pristine condition. Imagine if every pickup-owner out there suddenly became responsible for the use, care, and maintenance of a flying car.

Yeah, it ain't pretty.

Or imagine the number of road-rage and alcohol-related incidents that will occur a mile high going at two-thirds the speed of sound. When everyone has their own personal conveyance waiting to be converted into a missile, sobriety will become a major issue. This is doubly true when you consider that buzzed flyers won't have the shoulder of a road or median rumble-strips to shock them into realizing they are too drunk to fly. Much like our contemporary heart attack commercials, the first symptom will be colliding with a strip club at the kinetic energy of a stinger missile.

"Suddenly that wiggling hood stops being comical and becomes a potential air-to-ground missile."

And forget about those dueling ruge you see trying to pass each other on the highway, exchanging lewd sign language and snapping their Hondas around some poor soccer mom in a Chevy. In Sky America, the number one 'sky rage' expression will be using your radar to follow a person home and then buzz their house, Maverick-and-Goose-style.

Then there's law enforcement. With how much damage any flying car could cause, you'd need to enforce strict limits. The most obvious limit would be altitude. Since collateral damage worsens with height, you'd probably have progressive altitude levels become the slow-middle-fast lanes of the future, with a very low ceiling relative to the cars' capability. I mean, you don't want to worry about drivers flying too high and losing cabin pressure, sending them screaming to the earth at hundreds of miles per hour while clawing at the black eels beneath their eyelids, right?

So the highest civilian level becomes the fast lane, except there's no curb, so you know there'd be all sorts of butt-burgers illegally passing in the restricted height zone. This problem would tend to escalate, especially with the road-raging d-bags who populate the traffic arteries marrying Illinois and Wisconsin. The sky-cops of tomorrow, of course, would have different technologies for different infraction levels, with progressive responses. Maybe at the first increment they tap into your Blezinsky's radio and give you a stern warning, Demolition Man-intoned, to go back down to civilian altitudes.

At some point, though, the sky-cops are going to take off the kid gloves and rev up Cautionary Tale, the Skyway Patrol's answer to all unsolvable questions. Cautionary Tale is a lightweight mini-gun with explosive tracer rounds and an integral laser-based range-finder. When the SP determines you've reached your limit of warnings, they use Cautionary Tale to vulcanize you, your ride, and your legacy in a hail of 1,000 exploding shells per second. You and your reckless driving ways are converted into a mist of blood, motor oil, and vaporized metal that drizzles down onto the law-abiding traffic-bound flyers below.

A math break. This is the future. There are, say, 500 million future Americans living in the sky-high utopia of the future. We'll say one in one thousand is a sky-douche and does something grossly illegal with their flying car in a year. That means that nearly 1400 acts of high-flying stupidity occur every day in Sky-America, or nearly one a minute.

When you look at the spread of fine particulates at high altitudes, that means that the mist of pulped offenders will affect more than enough drivers below and with enough frequency that we will inevitably develop a slang term for it. 'Red mist' is a little too on the nose, so I'll guess our future term for it will be 'legal precipitation'. I'm sure that even for the massively de-sensitized Sky-Americans of tomorrow, after the first dozen or so times you have to clean the 'legal precipitation' off your Blezinsky's windshield, you start to miss the good old days of wheel-based locomotion.

So be a man and say no to flying cars. They're cool, empowering, and generally improve every science-fiction setting's mass appeal, but they're just too much for the average joe, thank you very much.

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