Dude, where is my flying car?

The first man on the moon has died, and pretty soon the last men on the moon will be dead also.

where are the space settlements?  By the year 2000, we were supposed to have flying cars, space settlements, and cities that looked like this:

What 2010 was supposed to look like

There is no technological obstacle to building big high efficiency free electron lasers that operate in the near infrared.   These are the lasers that were supposed to be built for Reagan’s star wars initiative.  They would be able to push rockets into space as well as blast them out of space.  The precision and power you need to destroy a space vehicle at great distance is similar to the precision and power needed to power it from a great distance. A laser rocket can get a person plus some survival equipment into near earth orbit for about the same energy cost as a household uses in year.  A laser rocket would be a single stage to orbit, thus would fly back and forth between orbit and the earth’s surface like a commercial airliner.

Plasma drives cannot be used to get off earth, but once in orbit, plasma drives could make the entire solar system accessible at reasonable reaction mass cost, and energy in space is nearly free.

So technology that we could have, technology that we know in principle how to build with reasonable amounts of energy and materials, had we the will and competence, could have made entry to space affordable to ordinary individuals and businesses.  There is no big technological obstacle to mining the asteroids for precious metals and such like, and then mining the rings of Saturn for volatiles to support the miners mining precious metals with air, water, and reaction mass.

 Autogyros are technologically flying cars.

The only problem is that they are not legally flying cars.  And if we had the current regulatory regime when people first started building cars, cars would never have become practical either.

You cannot legally put a foldback roof on your garage similar to the foldback door in front, and fly from your house in the suburbs to the parking lot at your place of work, even though physically there is nothing stopping an autogyro from doing that.

Autogyros capable of vertical or nearly vertical landing and takeoff can be built and operated for the price of an expensive car, and would get a whole lot cheaper if lots more people purchased them, but the regulatory burden makes them only useful in the middle of nowhere.  There is no technological obstacle to well off people being able to fly to work and shop and visit friends.When the engine fails, or the driver falls asleep, an autogyro goes into a nearly vertical landing slow enough to walk away from.  Unlike every other flying vehicle we have built, we can trust the usual idiots to drive and maintain an autogyro.  But in practice, the main demand for autogyros is wealthy ranchers who use them to fly around their ranch – since in practice they can only legally fly from the middle of nowhere to the middle of nowhere.

If we are capable of settling space, why have we not already settled Antarctica?

Because we were not allowed to settle Antarctica.  The antarctic treaty was agreed to because governments feared that the settlement of Antarctica was about to begin, and they decided to put a stop to it, as they similarly put a stop to the settlement of Spitzbergen (the islands of the Arctic), in which settlement had already begun.  Settlement of Spitzbergen and Antarctica would have led to the development of environment suits that would have been precursors of space suits, and housing that would have been the precursor of space habitats.

People have stopped settling Spitzbergen, because they cannot buy land, even though it is 99.99% empty.  Governments claimed all the land that was as yet unsettled, and refuse to let anyone else have any.  Land prices are, therefore, extraordinarily high, despite it being the middle of nowhere.  The high price of the tiny amount of land that was settled by pioneers before governments clamped down reveals a large frustrated demand to settle the Spitzbergen islands.

People settled Spitzbergen because there was energy in the form of coal, and food in the form of fish, seals, and whales.  Try that today in Antarctica.  Governments will not let you.

Tags: ,

33 Responses to “Dude, where is my flying car?”

  1. Candide III says:

    Jim, we may not have flying cars and space settlements, but Tokyo, Osaka, Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai etc. do look like this, and they don’t need cars much, whether flying or not. As for settling Antarctica, what would the settlers do there? Grow bananas? Russian permafrost regions are less harsh than Antarctica, but even there extraction is about the only thing that is marginally economical (it is subsidized by the state through cheap energy etc.) As a place to live, they suck big time: frozen most of the time, food and everything else very expensive as it has to be flown in thousands of kilometers, virtually cut off from the mainland for the same reason. It’s not as if we’re stumped for lebensraum on this planet anyway. We’ve got way more productivity on the one hand and people on the other hand than we know what to do with, governments or no.

    • jim says:

      Russian permafrost regions are less harsh than Antarctica

      The city of Oymyakon in Siberia hit -70°C one winter. It never gets that cold on the coast of Antarctica, winter temperatures rarely going below -30°C. To get lower winter temperatures than that, you have to inland onto the mountains. The lowest ever temperature recorded at the surface of the Earth, on mountains in the interior of Antarctica, is -90°C. If you can build cities that survive -70°C, you can build cities that survive -90°C

      The coast of Antarctica is considerably more benign than the worst inhabited parts of Siberia, and the worst of Antarctica not much worse than the worst of inhabited, urban, Siberia.

      It’s not as if we’re stumped for lebensraum on this planet anyway.

      Most of it is controlled by hostile governments that prevent economic development. We need to get into space to avoid killing each other.

      • Candide III says:

        The coast of Antarctica is considerably more benign than the worst inhabited parts of Siberia, and the worst of Antarctica not much worse than the worst of inhabited, urban, Siberia.

        Okay, so it’s not much worse. This does not make anything I said untrue. But do you know what the “urban Siberia” (lol) you’re talking about is like? It’s not like Tokyo at all.

        We need to get into space to avoid killing each other.

        Tosh. Do you seriously believe this? Have any past territorial expansions reduced killing (wars) in any substantial degree or for any substantial period? I can understand your apparent desire to live in some Heinleinian Moon-is-a-harsh-mistress colony, a sort of Wild West in space, free from politics, but I don’t think such an arrangement would work for long even were it ever successfully established. Where there are lots of people who are not all saints, there will be politics in one shape or another. I’m not happy about it either, but such is life.

        • jim says:

          Have any past territorial expansions reduced killing (wars) in any substantial degree or for any substantial period?

          North America was settled in substantial part to avoid the wars of religion. Visualize the wars of religion with nuclear weapons.

          But do you know what the “urban Siberia” (lol) you’re talking about is like? It’s not like Tokyo at all.

          No. It is pretty much like London, which is to say early twentieth century, whereas Tokyo is late twentieth. But whereas London is regressing back into the nineteenth century, Siberia is heading forwards into the late twentieth century.

          • Candide III says:

            North America was settled in substantial part to avoid the wars of religion.

            You haven’t really answered my question: that’s intention, not result. Suppose North America was settled largely for the reason you mention. I ask, did it help much? I seem to remember something called the American Revolutionary War, then something called the Civil War, then altercations with Mexico, with the Indian tribes, then of course America put its foot into WWI and went around the globe promoting democracy — is this so different from a war of religion? Some argue that it is a war of religion, quite persuasively in my opinion.

            Visualize the wars of religion with nuclear weapons.

            US/USSR, India/Pakistan, Iran/Israel… if it weren’t for the fear of trashing the only available planet in MAD, these could have boiled over easily. Hell, even as it was (is) they almost have on a number of occasions.

            No. It is pretty much like London

            Sorry, you’ve completely lost me here. Pray enlighten me, how exactly are Norilsk, Magadan or Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky pretty much like London? Do you mean they have cars, electricity (often) and central heating (sometimes)? (Tokyo has no central heating.)

          • jim says:

            Suppose North America was settled largely for the reason you mention. I ask, did it help much?

            It helped the people who settled. They did get away from religious conflict.

            Being able to get away from unpleasant people, wars, tax collectors, and so forth, was a great big safety valve.

            Pray enlighten me, how exactly are Norilsk, Magadan or Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky pretty much like London?

            Look early twentieth century, not modern, looks backward. But Norilsk is backward because of the legacy of communism, and because the frontier is always backward relative to the metropolis. London is backward because of social, cultural, and economic decay.

          • Candide III says:

            It helped the people who settled. They did get away from religious conflict.

            You’re making my point: your answer to my question

            Have any past territorial expansions reduced killing (wars) in any substantial degree or for any substantial period?

            is “No”.

            Look early twentieth century, not modern, looks backward.

            OK, I get it. You’re looking just at the coolness factor here. I don’t think it is so important in real life. What I meant is that in London you can get away with single glazing and 20-cm brick walls standing virtually on dirt, while even in central Russia you have to have walls a meter thick on a corresponding foundation, and in Norilsk you want triple glazing if you can get it and you have to deal with permafrost — see how new houses are set on stilts? Norilsk needs like ten times more heating degree-days than London, to say nothing of Kuala-Lumpur. Etc.

          • jim says:

            You’re making my point: your answer to my question

            Have any past territorial expansions reduced killing (wars) in any substantial degree or for any substantial period?

            us “No”.

            We are killer apes, (or if you are Christian, we are sinners). Wherever we go, we will always bring war with us. Taxes are the tribute the defeated pay to the victors. But a frontier means you can get away from other people’s wars, taxes, and aggression, which is a very good thing for those people heading to the frontier.

            in Norilsk you want triple glazing if you can get it and you have to deal with permafrost

            Cold is nowhere near as bad as tax collectors and regulators, let alone hostile armies. The worst thing about Norilsk is not the cold, but that it is not far enough from Moscow.

          • Candide III says:

            But a frontier means you can get away from other people’s wars, taxes, and aggression, which is a very good thing for those people heading to the frontier.

            You know as well as I do that this idyll doesn’t last. As soon as population density rises past a certain limit relative to communication/transport speed, the frontier effectively closes.

            The worst thing about Norilsk is not the cold, but that it is not far enough from Moscow.

            Point taken. Of course absence of the rule of law etc. does not help. However, the cold will make most activities in Norilsk non-economical whether it is under Moscow’s or Singaporean/Dubai/insert-your-own rule.

          • jim says:

            As soon as population density rises past a certain limit relative to communication/transport speed, the frontier effectively closes.

            Space is big.

            However, the cold will make most activities in Norilsk non-economical whether it is under Moscow’s or Singaporean/Dubai/insert-your-own rule.

            Spitzbergen was booming until governments butted in. The cold did not make Spitzbergen uneconomical

  2. Thales says:

    The reason why many of these post-WWII consumer technology dreams never came true is due to Moore’s law. Investing capital in the digital age meant exponential portfolio growth, thus that’s where the money went.

  3. asdf says:

    Self driving cars will be a pretty big thing.

    • Thales says:

      Why? What’s the killer app? Certainly not passenger cars — every passenger car has at least one passenger available to drive the car. (Maybe napping during the morning commute, but that seems like more of a luxury.)

      Unskilled labor is cheap because life is cheap — humans are prolific and, like all life forms, will reproduce to the point of making all goods scarce.

      • Red says:

        Driving home drunk? Driving home tired? I got my car with automatic cruise control so I could zone out while driving home late at night. It matches speed with the car in front of me and I sent the speed below the speed limit to avoid tickets. If I could drive home drunk from a bar I would go out drinking a lot more.

        • Thales says:

          Convenience noted — I’d love to have autodrive so I could read during the daily commute — I’m just saying that it doesn’t look like a game-changer. [The State is still likely to demand a licenced driver behind the wheel that can be imprisoned for DUI, if necessary. :P ]

      • jim says:

        The self driving car is pretty cool, but flying to work over the traffic jams would be cooler.

        Though we would probably just make our city cores denser until we had traffic jams in the air. But then at least our city cores would really look like the city of tomorrow.

      • asdf says:

        Imagine being able to live two hours away from work and sleep the entire way in. Now you can buy that big house in an exurb at 1/3 the price and lower taxes and the commute is easy.

        Imagine being able to hop in the car Friday night and sleep till you arrive at your weekend vacation spot the next morning.

        Or just imagine being able to work on your laptop and arrive at the office way ahead of schedule.

        • Thales says:

          People already lived out in the “bedroom communities” back in the 90′s. They already drove cars or took the train.

          I can see the value, to be sure, but not it changing people’s lifetyles, not even as much as “telecommuniting” which, while great, never did live up to the hype (if for nothing else than tribal politics, q.v. Spandrel’s recent great blog post on that one.)

        • jim says:

          It is plausible that robot cars are a bigger advance than flying cars, but flying cars are just way cooler. Faced with a choice of snoozing through a traffic jam, or flying over it at two hundred miles per hour, which would you choose?

          • Thales says:

            A flying car would be a game changer due to higher possible speeds and, of course, truly random access between points A and B. But one is predicated on the other — it is obvious why your average driver is not allowed to pilot an aircraft.

    • jim says:

      Yes, computer technology continues to advance – that is one of the promises, that, like videophone calls, is being kept.

    • jim says:

      One problem with his theory: We have been moving steadily left for two hundred years or so, and today’s republicans are scarcely distinguishable from today’s democrats. They differ by a few months to eight years – an eight year lag behind the current ideology being the limits of unthinkably far right.

      This guy favors the Bush/Obama policy of getting Muslims to love us. The Americans of the nineteenth century would have said “Let us ravage Afghanistan until no people anywhere want to imitate them”, not “let us be so nice to them that they start to love us”.

      • Zach says:

        Agreed.

        I merely included the link because he got one problem right. If you are to think like a liberal, and if you are to believe what a liberal believes then you are required to abandon rationality.

        I think that bit starts at 16:00 minutes or so.

        My immediate thought was: why are not more people saying this in public?

        Oh well…

  4. [...] Dude, where is my flying car? « Jim's Blog [...]

  5. On the other hand, we also didn’t get the other future, in which nuclear-winter, the incipient Ice Age, resource shortages, the devolution of the human race, and the heat death of the universe were going to wipe out Civilization as We Know It.

    • jim says:

      Ice age due any time in the next few thousand years.

      Worrying about nuclear winter is like worrying about the noise pollution caused by people shooting at you. Nuclear war will destroy enough that its climatic effects are the least of our worries. Resource shortages are partly political, partly a result of technological decline. Heat death of the universe is quite some time away.

  6. nissan says:

    nissan…

    [...]Dude, where is my flying car? « Jim’s Blog[...]…

  7. JustSaying says:

    Here is your flying car, which complies with international laws.

    • jim says:

      It complies with international laws by not being allowed to take off except from legally recognized airports.

      It is not difficult to build a gyro that take off vertically, and any gyro can take off with reasonably slow forward speed. If you can drive like a motorcycle, you should be able to take off from a dirt track – but is not legally allowed to do so.

  8. Make sure they have the same branching structure mold joint pain of filaments that are found in houses, buildings and
    beloved antique furniture? Any signs of moisture or damp patches on surfaces such as walls and wood
    can be removed using vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters.

  9. Miles says:

    For mild intrusion it is possible to see a significant
    improvement. If mold remediation you caught it quickly
    enough and it’s contained to a small area is affected with black mold.
    Disposable protective clothing can also be very damaging to anything it touches.
    Scrub the mold hard with the rag. So our next album will be a recurrence of mold remediation mold.
    So, people prefer to hire professional service providers who either undertake jobs for commercial or residential space.

  10. site web says:

    I for all time emailed this webpage post page to all my contacts, for the
    reason that if like to read it next my links will too.

    Here is my weblog: site web

Leave a Reply