Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dumbasscience: Flying Cars Part 1

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.

Additional explanation: I love science, science-fiction, and gadgetry. I write science-fiction, and I have dreams about this stuff. I also have dreams about swimming to school as an adult, that doesn't mean it's a good idea. We need to take a moment, sniff our dreams, and keep them away from reality if they are a little rank.

The flying car.

It is the quintessential piece of future-tech, the emblem of 'tomorrow', the paragon of stupid crap you don't need but really want. Especially in your science-fiction. Without flying cars, a lot of sci-fi chase scenes would have to be as well thought-out and carefully choreographed as your standard action movie car chase. I mean, think about what the flying car chase usually consists of, and then translate that to a mundane car chase--lots of low angles as the car whizzes by, possibly shaking the camera, doing very little in the way of actual maneuvering. Throw that fifty feet or more in the air, give it a decent special effects budget, and you've got a gripping chase in the world of tomorrow. Leave it on the ground and, well, Dukes of Hazzard has you beat. Really. Beat like a gamer husband asking to go to a gaming convention on his anniversary.

Beat, even without the jean cut-offs.

In reality, though, the flying car idea blows. But before I go into graphic detail about how this should not be in our future, some news and definitions. Popular Science has had articles on the flying car as a pipe-dream since the magazine started, and in the past year or so there's been a lot more articles. Dude, Where's My Flying Car? does a comparison of past expectations and near future reality. Flying Car Gets Real covers a car that converts into a airplane thanks to collapsable wings. And The Unexpected Rebirth of the Flying Car overviews how the field is being supported by recent DARPA grants.

But these articles might confuse the definition of the flying car. A convertible plane is not a flying car(and plus, aeronautically speaking, using your canards as a bumper is like using your yahoo as a fist--you could pull it off, but you'll wish you hadn't). And the military will not make a flying car per se, either. Either of these developments might progress the technology, but the flying car as a few integral concepts. First of all, as long as the 'flying cars' being developed require a pilot's license, we have not achieved the flying car of futurists everywhere. The flying car of the future will be at least as common as a Volkswagen. And the flying car of the future must be integrated into civilian society. As long as it is a military vehicle, it's not truly a flying car anymore than an M-16 is a hunting rifle.

A lot of the modern interest in flying cars is supposedly driven by urban interest in circumventing traditional traffic. I'll let you chew on that one for a moment. Yes, that's right--it's Speed Racer logic, people. Sick of waiting in traffic? Push your number seven button on the steering column and jump over that traffic jam, straight to your driveway. Don't worry about mass transit, resource conservation or efficiency, or any of that jazz about pollution footprints, you're late for Desperate Housewives. Turd.

There's a lot of problems with the flying car that are always going to be there, and I'll be spotlighting them in the coming weeks as part of the Dumbasscience feature. So keep your head down and your eye on the sky: the flying cars are coming!

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