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The Coming Air Age 319

Posted by michael
from the RSN dept.
Lovejoy writes "Sixty years ago in The Atlantic Monthly, Igor Sikorsky wrote The Coming Air Age. "Any of us who are alive ten years after this Second World War is won will see and use hundreds of short-run helicopter bus services." He goes on to write about personal helicopters which fit in large garages and that helicopters that are easier to drive than cars, etc.. So, will personal flight ever be viable? Do wildly wrong predictions like this give futurists pause? I think they should."
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The Coming Air Age

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  • by Jouster (144775) <slashdot@noSpAM.angelfaq.com> on Friday October 11, 2002 @08:01PM (#4434845) Homepage Journal
    ... when we can have rocket belts [slashdot.org]?

    Jouster
    • Who needs helicopters when we can have rocket belts?

      It failed some initial user tests:

      "Mr. Goatse, wait!, you have your belt on wrong.......I said, you have your......never mind, too late."
  • Not yet ... (Score:3, Funny)

    by nbvb (32836) on Friday October 11, 2002 @08:03PM (#4434856) Journal
    Personal flight won't be a reality until we figure out how to put skip-lines and double-yellows in mid-air to keep people in line :-)

    --NBVB
    • Re:Not yet ... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Usquebaugh (230216)
      Until it's cheap. I want my Silver Surfer fantasy damn it now just hurry up and make it happen.

      It won't happen with current tech, too expensive and liable to fail. We need something like anti gravity, ducks the punches thrown by physicists, or something similar that provides oodles of lift for a few cents.

      Having surfed, skateboarded, snow boarded I'm all set to flyboard.
    • seriously... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by keithmoore (106078) on Friday October 11, 2002 @09:42PM (#4435273) Homepage
      air traffic control is probably the biggest problem.
      the ATC system is already overtaxed in busy areas and part of how they cope is by discouraging general aviation. it's certainly technically feasible for personal aircraft to be reliable, affordable, and about as easy to fly as it is to drive a car IF you can get enough people to use them. but if you get enough people to use them you have a traffic management problem far worse than anything we've ever seen on the ground.

      face it, one reason we want to travel by air is to avoid traffic jams - but as soon as we put everyone in the air we need to find ways to keep everyone from hitting each other, and to do that we end up imposing the same kinds of constraints we have on the ground. at least on the ground we can often survive collisions between vehicles.

      Keith
      • I would say in the air you have an infinite number of possible paths, on ground you only have very expensive roads.

        I doubt the type of problems we have currently would be that major, also consider you can have *multiple* levels of traffic without overly expensive bridges.

        As for collision avoidance, I'm almost positive that a consumer vehicle in the range of $10k-$30k is capable of surviving a 10 story fall without any bodily harm, in fact the driver might be better off due to the delay before the "big crash". I think if we were to take to personal aircraft, it would probably be completly computerized control anyway (it *is* possible if you remove the pedestrian problem), so the only errors that could cause accidents would be mechanical failure.
  • by Rick the Red (307103) <Rick@The@Red.gmail@com> on Friday October 11, 2002 @08:05PM (#4434862) Journal
    It didn't happen because Igor Sikorsky couldn't make helicopters the way Henry Ford made Model Ts. The problem is that when a Model T breaks you get out and walk; when your helicopter breaks, you die.

    • by littlerubberfeet (453565) on Friday October 11, 2002 @08:12PM (#4434898)
      NO, the helocopter dies, and you autorotate down to the ground. At any decent helo flight school, they will force at least 3 practice autorotations, where they actually shut off the engine. They are no more dangerous then having an engine shut off in a Porsche at 140 mph. It just takes a little more training, which wouldn't be a bad thing for most car drivers.
      • by Usquebaugh (230216) on Friday October 11, 2002 @08:22PM (#4434947)
        That's assuming you have a place to land, the rotors are still in one piece, the rotors are free to auto rotate, the other control surfaces are still functioning. There is plenty of footage of autorotation accidents.

        Having an engine shut off at speed in a corner is vicious, suddenly no drive going to braking. When your car is balanced at speed any change in force is a big problem.
        • by Ruger (237212) on Friday October 11, 2002 @09:48PM (#4435297) Homepage
          Well of course it assumes a few things...like the rotors are intact...but let's deal with only one emergency at a time. The truth is that it's extremely rare to loose a rotor. Much more likely is the loss of engine power, or hydraulics, or maybe a dynamic component malfunction. I've practiced 100's of autorotations without incident and suffered one intermediate gearbox malfunction. The gearbox malfunction resulted in a crash.

          As far as a place to land is concerned, any parking lot, large backyard, baseball diamond or other area large enough to accommodate the length of the bird is sufficient...something you can't say about any airplane. Also, helos glide pretty well. So finding a spot to set down isn't that hard unless you're in some really rugged terrain. If you're in flight flying low (nap of the earth) in anything and loose power you're toast (unless you have an ejection seat...not available on most civilian aircraft), but a good pilot doesn't need much altitude to successfully auotrotate and walk away from the landing.

          And there's no way you can compare loosing power in a car with loosing power in an aircraft...unless it's comparison out of ignorance.
        • And most importantly, it assumes that you have either speed or altitude to work with. If you're hovering thirty feet up and you suddently lose power, you're going splat.

          Planes are a little better, because under normal conditions, you've always got some speed to work with (if you don't, the plane stalls.) Of course, the worst power-loss problems happen when you lose power on take off -- yes, you could land safely straight ahead, but people still try to make it back to the runway ...

      • Hell, you can even program a computer to do it for you automagically.
      • An experiment... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Scratch-O-Matic (245992) on Friday October 11, 2002 @09:39PM (#4435262)
        1. Take the idiot who cut you off this morning with no turn signal and no glance in the mirror while pulling curlers out of her hair and talking on her cell phone.

        2. Drag her from her car like you wanted to anyway.

        3. Put her in a helicopter with a failed engine and see how well she does autorotating.

        As I pilot, I think that personal flight will occur someday, but only after these two prerequisites are achieved:

        1. Antigravity, or some propulsion system that is so simple and efficient that falling out of the sky is not going to happen no matter how inattentive the pilot, and
        2. An automatic navigation system that will keep all the vehicles in well-defined "lanes" just as they are now.

        Needless to say, I think we have a ways to go yet.
        • Re:An experiment... (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Tablizer (95088)
          Antigravity, or some propulsion system that is so simple and efficient that falling out of the sky is not going to happen no matter how inattentive the pilot....

          That is a real bummer about anti-gravity. All the other "fundimental forces" have a negative version of them (plus, minus), EXCEPT gravity. If it had a negative like magnetism, then we could simply strap on a backpack with anti-gravity particles and a small propeller and float up onto work.

          The fact that gravity is the only force without a (known) negative version puzzles many physics researches. Gravity stumps them in general.

          Then again, we don't have to commute to work in most cases if most people, especially managers would just get used to the concept of telecommuting and rented satellite offices.
          • But there really is no negative heat. You can have less heat or less gravity, but once you are at zero thats about it as far as anybody knows.

            Mass, at least is equivalent to inductance, so gravity can cause an object to oscillate. Heat doesn't even have that. Heat will flow from warmer to cooler places, but thats about it.

        • Hmmm. My personal suggestion is to replace your step three with this:

          3. Beat her like she stole a package.
        • by AJWM (19027) on Friday October 11, 2002 @10:42PM (#4435469) Homepage
          ... and see how well she does ...

          Just think of it as evolution in action.

          In actuality, most FAA regs are to protect (a) people (and property) on the ground and (b) passengers. They don't really care much if a pilot kills himself (or herself -- although most of the female pilots I've known were a little less reckless than the males) as long as he doesn't hurt anyone else. (Unless, of course, it was a commercially built (vs homebuilt) aircraft at fault. And then they're still more concerned with the other folks who might get hurt by similar.)
      • NO, the helocopter dies, and you autorotate down to the ground

        Yeah, right, tell that to my friends [gdargaud.net]... And he was one of the very best pilots ever, having flown thousands of rescue missions in heinous weathers in the Alps. Power cut-off while taking off --> immediate crash.

    • It didn't happen because helicopters have all the aerodynamic qualities of a brick. When the power goes in a plane, you can glide for miles and with luck land in a field or on a beach. When the power goes in a helicopter you just drop, vertically.

      Predictions like this were made during and after WW1 as well, for the private use of planes. For a time in the 20s and early 30s, it seemed as if it might be true: small biplanes like the Moth were cheap and easy to fly, and could be stored in the garage and assembled for a trip.

      But I don't know why it never took off...maybe the intervention of WW2, cheaper cars, better roads...

      • by shadowj (534439) on Friday October 11, 2002 @08:20PM (#4434943)
        When the power goes in a helicopter you just drop, vertically.

        Not quite true. When the power goes in a helicopter, there's a lot of angular momentum stored in the rotor, and aerodynamic effects allow you to spin the rotor even faster by angling the blades appropriately as you, er, plummet.

        As you approach the ground (probably a lot faster than you'd like), you angle the blades to bite into the air, trading lift for angular momentum. If you do this correctly, you may be able to save your butt.

        • According to the NTSB database [ntsb.gov], there have been about 5100 heli incidents/accidents since 1/1/1980. 879 had at least one fatality.

          So, it's not too bad, but compared to the number of general aircraft fatal/nonfatal incident ratio, it's higher.

          Of course, that could be due to the higher incident of runway incursions and planes taxiing into other planes causing minor damage, which is included in these numbers. Those kinds of things don't often happen to helicopters, since, well, they don't taxi. :)
        • Ok, you have a choice: a dead stick landing with a Cessna 172 or a helicopter at equal altitude. Which would you choose?

          I would choose the Cessna 100% of the time. Sure, you can autorotate a heli down, but if you don't have _plenty_ of airspeed/altitude when you do it, good luck and things happen fast. At least with a regular plane, you actually have a few minutes to ponder where to land.

          Not to mention if the rotor "departs the aircraft." A prop you can live without, but not a rotor.

          A pilot told me once, "Practicing a autorotation is alot like practicing dying."
          • Not to mention if the rotor "departs the aircraft." A prop you can live without, but not a rotor.

            True enough. A helicopter mechanic (who may have been pulling my chain) once told me about a critical connector that he called a "Jesus bolt". Why? Because if that bolt lets loose, you're going to see Jesus.

            Playing devil's advocate, though... if you're going to talk about gross structural failures, you have to admit that there will be similar problems with other aircraft. If a wing falls off of your Cessna, you're going to be just as pissed, aren't you? What's the likelihood of a rotor going away compared to a wing going kaput?

            With that said, I think I'd prefer to be in a dead-stick Cessna, just as you would... but that's with today's helicopters. A liberal application of technology could go a long way toward fixing those shortcomings.

      • ...never piloted an aircraft. The glide characteristics of most airplanes do not allow for "miles" of unpowered flight. A Cessna has a glide ratio of about 9:1 @ 90 KIAS. That means you can go forward 9 feet for every foot you drop. 1,000 feet up equals 9,000 feet forward. Hardly miles! Also, without power your control surfaces do not work as well and a stall is a fairly typical result...unless you've spent a lot of time training for engine failure.

        As someone pointed out below, in a helo you have a lot of energy stored in your wings (the rotors) when you loose engine power and helos don't stall in flight. As you "drop like a rock" you can increase the "power" in your wings and use that power as you approach the ground you can trade that power for lift and reduce your rate of descent...landing at a very survivable rate. I've practiced 100's of these and experienced one real one. We landed hard but the bird and the crew were unhurt.
        • Give me a break. Airplanes do not have a stall as a typical result of an engine failure. You lose an engine, and you find a field. Big deal. Pilots are trained for this. Every pilot you run into will will be able to control their plane with no engine.

          And if you're cruising at 8000 feet, then you'd better be able to find a landing spot within 13 miles or so, because that's how far you can glide in a Cessna from 8000 feet.

          On the other hand, you've completely ignored the infamous "dead man zone" in a helo. Too low to autorotate, too high to survive. Oops. Nice crater.
    • Safety (Score:2, Informative)

      by Inominate (412637)
      One reason aircraft will never be as common as cars, is the maintainance involved. Aircraft must be constantly maintained, whereas cars can be ignored. The other is ease, a bad driver will cause accidents or close calls, a bad pilot can kill many people.

      The truth about modern flight is, it's so safe that the only thing that will bring any plane down unsafely is a bad pilot or a catastrophic failure. This is why people don't survive airline crashes. An airliner doesn't crash unless it explodes, or has a major structural failure.

      The hardware isnt much of an issue, but cost and training required is.
    • I think that the general publics tendency towards idiocy is another limiting factor. It's bad enough letting them drive cars far more powerful then they need.

      Imagine letting them move in one extra dimension.

      We'd need to move underground to avoid the runners-up in the natural selection process as they rain from the sky.
  • by Stinking Pig (45860) on Friday October 11, 2002 @08:07PM (#4434876) Homepage
    When a man who makes helicopters tells you everyone needs a helicopter, doesn't it sound a lot like a man who makes computers telling you that everyone needs a computer?

    Or an Internet connection for that matter...

    • Fair enough, but you probably don't question it when a farmer says everyone needs food.

      The trick is determining whether the guy is telling everyone they need something because he's in the industry, or whether he's in the industry because everyone needs it. Of course, we can only make that distinction in hindsight.

      Still, I think you're dead on about Sikorsky. Everyone needs a helicopter? Apparently he didn't pay much attention to the way people drive in two dimensions.

      Cheers
      -b
    • "When a man who makes helicopters tells you everyone needs a helicopter"

      Like the old saying goes, "If you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail"

    • Wasn't it the head of IBM who said "Three computers should be able to handle all the processing required of the entire country"? Of course this is the same company that told a certain presidential hopefull that he had sold his year's quota of computers within the first two weeks....
  • Ground is better (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Talennor (612270) on Friday October 11, 2002 @08:07PM (#4434881) Journal
    The problem is that ground is better. Cars go quite fast enough, and while traffic is really bad the fact remains that after a small collision nobody falls to their deaths. And can you imagine the noise pollution from the rotors? Think of one of those things taking off from your neighbor's driveway! Cars are fine for me, where I don't have to worry about watching for other vehicles in 3D, hey it's hard enough when you don't have cars coming up from underneath you cutting you off! We're still on the ground all the time because it's just a better place to be.
    • Re:Ground is better (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Smidge204 (605297) on Friday October 11, 2002 @08:37PM (#4435015) Journal
      Quote: Cars go quite fast enough, and while traffic is really bad the fact remains that after a small collision nobody falls to their deaths.

      I don't know about you, but there have been many times where I've gone someplace by car spending over two hours on the road, knowing that a two-man ultralight or autogyro could have gotten me there in about 30 minutes. An ultralight aircraft (basically a glider with a lawnmower engine on it) with a 350 pound capacity will hold me, my equipment, and a small foldable bicycle to take me the rest of the way from wherever I land. (All you need is a hundred feet or so of open grass or roadway, too. Public parks and parking lots make a suitable landing strip).

      After landing, the craft folds up and can be "driven" over land using the propeller, making it easy to stash it in a regular parking spot or garage.

      Granted, it's not something I'd use on my regular commute, but something like that could come in handy, and I'm not the only person who could find a use for it.

      So the issue of use is not a problem, it's safety. Most people can't even drive as it is. But ultralights are actually safer than cars because of mass and speed issues. Low altitude power-deployed parachutes allow for safe landings even in a major collision. If you lose power, you glide back down (quickly, but controllably). All you need is proper training and licensing programs to (hopefully) keep the really incapable people out of the skys.

      As for mass-transit air, that's actually pretty popular, if a little expensive and awkward due to scheduling. But if you're going from New York City to D.C. in a hurry, you either take a shuttle turboprop out of LaGuardia.

      Besides, once private aircraft become even remotely popular, the roads will probably clear up a bit. Things balance out. Don't write it off so quickly.
      =Smidge=
    • by efatapo (567889)
      Yeah, and I'm sure plenty of people said...

      Horses work fine. Sure, the crap smells bad but can you imagine your neighbor pulling one of those loud things out of his house. Horses are fine for me where I don't have to worry about other cars coming at me at 70mph.

      Just like when I heard everyone saying word processors/type writers are fine. Or, dial-up modems are fine who needs cable.

      You only say this because cars are the social norm and to society Helicoptor/air travel is a fantasy. In 20 years your tune might change.
  • Futurists (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Altima(BoB) (602987) on Friday October 11, 2002 @08:13PM (#4434899)
    1930s Popular Science issues are always pretty amusing. I think they know that (The do that flashback thing after every issue, after all) and these days they stick to more grounded articles, usually just reporting things that have already been invented but on the cutting edge anyway.

    Prediction is not only a tricky business, it's a double edged sword. This generation is probably the most aware of how wrong predictions have been, because of the speed of a computer revolution and the (relative) slow pace of the rest of physics and chemistry. We're all aware that even the greatest works from the past look silly now (Think of 2001: A Space Odyssey)

    But as a side effect, perhaps our generation will limit its predictions to stuff like Moore's Law. That would be tragic.

    What's a society without dreams, anyway? I'd hate to see the world go stagnant for fear that any dreams expressed will sound silly in 20 years.
    • by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Friday October 11, 2002 @08:23PM (#4434954) Homepage
      > This generation is probably the most aware of how
      > wrong predictions have been, because of the speed
      > of a computer revolution and the (relative) slow
      > pace of the rest of physics and chemistry.

      I'm afraid I'd have to disagree. Many of these predictions COULD have come true, if it weren't for the incredible growth of regulations and other legal obstructions. Autogyros are very simple devices which require only a bit of practice to run, and would be pretty darn cheap if mass-produced. So why aren't they common? Because you need quite a bit in the way of licensing to be allowed to operate one.
    • We're all aware that even the greatest works from the past look silly now (Think of 2001: A Space Odyssey)
      I'll bite. What's so silly-looking about 2001: A Space Odyssey? Other than the time frame, I mean.
    • Re:Futurists (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bhsx (458600)
      Well, Moller [moller.com] has an interesting approach. Remove those axis decisions from the driver/pilot. Make a computer-based flight system that holds the "skycar" perfectly still. No yaw. Then you simply have up and down, left and right, and forward and back. Not too much more to learn. Add in 8-way redundant rotary engines, a GPS, and about 5 years of REAL testing and I think we may see a winner here. All of us, if they ever hit that "cheap as an Escort" goal of theirs.
    • Re:Futurists (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sam_handelman (519767) <{skh2003} {at} {columbia.edu}> on Friday October 11, 2002 @09:25PM (#4435204) Homepage Journal
      But as a side effect, perhaps our generation will limit its predictions to stuff like Moore's Law. That would be tragic.

      Glancing at the recent science fiction on my bookshelf, I say, not fucking likely.

      "Hard" science fiction plays the role that those articles in Popular science once did. This is unsurprising - stories are generally more fun to read than articles, and as a society we've matured to the point that the human impact of technology (which is best explored through literature) is of more interest to people than the gadgets themselves (present company excluded ;)

      Personal helicopters, personal vectored thrust aircraft and flying cars do not, at the moment, seem to be the direction the future is heading, so no one predicts them. This is not surprising - no more surprising than, in recent times, futurists stopped predicting air on the moon!

      The book I happen to be reading at the moment, The Octagonal Raven by L.E. Modesitt, has personal ultralight aircraft in it. It also has nanotechnology and some kind of cyberware. It's pretty recent (it's also not very good, btw.) At this juncture, all of this seems like a pretty likely future (it also has implied FTL, which doesn't); in a century, I'm sure it will appear as quant and dated as an old star trek.
  • Too hard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shadowj (534439) on Friday October 11, 2002 @08:16PM (#4434912)
    It didn't happen because helicopters are just too damned hard to fly. It takes great skill to hover the things, despite what you see in the movies and TV.

    A little computer assistance goes a long way, though... add a few solid-state gyros and some jazzy control circuitry, and everything becomes much easier. See this [rctoys.com] link to a computer-stabilized RC model helicopter, for example (yes, I know it was previously covered on /.).

    Whether or not we can make a similar, human-occupied system sufficiently reliable to prevent newbies from plummeting out of the sky is an open question.

    • Re:Too hard (Score:3, Interesting)

      by King_TJ (85913)
      I really don't think that difficulty in using a flying device is what's keeping them from being mass produced for public transportation.

      Look at Moller's air-car for example. He has computers doing all the difficult stuff, so the pilot practically just points the joystick and it goes.

      (Granted, the traditional helicopter might take a lot of training to fly.... but this would be "dumbed down" into something easier to handle for a personal flying craft.)

      It looks like government regulation is the primary obstacle. The FAA places so many rules and restrictions on air flight, it's nearly impossible to build something that people can "just get in and go" like they do with their car. It would break hundreds of laws.

      The other issue with a helicopter, in particular, is the high level of maintenance. A friend of mine has a govt. job that requires him to keep up on all the details and workings of just one of their helicopters. The manual is HUGE, and it's surprising they fly at all - given all the technical issues.

      EG. The rotors have to be completely smooth. There's a special paint they paint them with that has to be flexible enough not to flake off or crack when the rotors flex and vibrate. He says they require regular inspection to make sure the paint is still intact, because if it chips or peels off - the helicopter can actually crash from an imblance in forces when one blade has more drag than the opposing blade. (I assume they have to paint them in the first place to fill in any imperfections or porous parts of the blades?)
  • Futurists (Score:3, Interesting)

    by entrippy (14141) on Friday October 11, 2002 @08:16PM (#4434918)
    When a futurist makes an incorrect guess as to what the future holds, it doesn't invalidate the whole system.

    Of course, what we're talking about is a system of making educated guesses. Emphasis on the "guess" part of the equation. Anyone who's actually putting money on any prediction beyond 5 years being accurate is bound to get a quick kick up the jacksie, in any field.

    I defy you to find a consistantly successful futurist - for the most part, they just make a *lot* of guesses and then focus on the ones that are right.

    For the most part, I suspect a science fiction novel would provide you with as accurate a view of the future as most futurists.

    So, should this incorrect prediction cause us to look more closely at the predictions of futurists? No - we should have been looking closely and skeptically already.
  • Not so far off (Score:5, Informative)

    by Daemonik (171801) on Friday October 11, 2002 @08:18PM (#4434927) Homepage
    We might never have personal helicopters or jetpacks carrying us around but there is a plan to better utilize our small airports being worked on that could create airlines that work more like taxi's than buses. Check it out at Popular Science [popsci.com].
  • Bad Predictions (Score:2, Interesting)

    by recordalator (263910)
    Do wildly wrong predictions like this give futurists pause? I think they should.

    There's a lot to be learned from Bad Predictions [elsewherepress.com] of the past. You can often tell a lot more about people from what they get wrong than what they get right.
  • Flying Cars are here (Score:2, Informative)

    by jackb_guppy (204733)
    SkyCar [moller.com]
  • Lusers in the air (Score:3, Insightful)

    by b1t r0t (216468) on Friday October 11, 2002 @08:24PM (#4434958)
    The reason we don't have personal helicopters or aerocars or whatever is because they aren't luser friendly. People are bad enough in cars when they don't have a hundreds of feet drop below them, so imagine what would happen if your average bad driver were up in the air? Not only would he be a danger to himself, but he's going to land on something too.

    So helicopters can do autorotation if something goes wrong with the engine, so what? There's another problem: the spinning blades are inherently unsafe. Just ask Vic Morrow.

  • How could someone even want to consider having a personal flying device when we know that Rocket Belts make people homicidal [slashdot.org]. Build a rocket belt, get killed by your business partner, simple as that.
  • by djupedal (584558) on Friday October 11, 2002 @08:33PM (#4434996)
    I like that line in 'That 70's Show', where Red keeps complaining how Americans were promised a 'personal helicopter in every garage', and he's still waiting...

    C'mon, already, when's it gonna happen??!! They told us we'd have our own personal helicopter, and I haven't gotten mine yet, damn it."

    Hang in there, Red. We're still waiting for NASA to figure this out for us.
  • fuel issues (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KevinMS (209602) on Friday October 11, 2002 @08:36PM (#4435010)
    I'll admit i'm not expert on this. But i do believe the faster you push something through the air the less fuel efficient it becomes. Also, keeping something In the air requires a lot of fuel. You'd think that cramming a lot of poeple into a fast flying machine would eventually become fuel efficient the more you put in, but its a fact that traveling by train is much more fuel efficient than a 767.

    My car goes about 300-400 miles on a 15 gallon tank of gas. Imagine how much gas a any kind of helicopter burns in 300 miles keeping itself up and pushing itself through the air, especially with all the crazy turbulence the roters makes.

    I have no doubt that fuel will get cheaper in the future and global warming is bunk, but i dont want a bunch of hippies bugging me.
    • Re:fuel issues (Score:2, Interesting)

      by AxelTorvalds (544851)
      Energy is the exact problem. That's the one thing that holds a large chunk of the 20th century "future ideas" back. There are no problems making really small and powerful computers, other than energy, suppliying it and getting rid of it.

      No reason we couldn't have personal planes, accept energy.

      If we create room temperature super conductors and cold fusion in a bottle then it all might happen when we've got energy to just piss away but until then I wouldn't hold my breath.

  • Trying to keep up (Score:2, Insightful)

    by charlie763 (529636)
    I think it's a good thing that futurists predictions are further ahead than reality. We might be more inclined to push ourselves if we think we are behind schedule...
  • 1. Cost (capital and operating)
    2. Pilot skill (individuals flying their own?)
    3. Navigation
    4. Parking (surely not in a multi-level garage!)
    5. Air traffic control
    6. Bad weather
    7. Night

    Aside from navigation and air traffic control, most of these problems are as serious today as when the helicopter was invented.

    Sikorsky was too smart not to realize that it was never going to be a mass-market item. He was either fooling investors or fooling the government into subsidizing a project.

    If we were so motivated, we could automate enough of helicopter operation to solve problems 2/3/5, but 1/4/6/7 will not go away.
  • from your driveway and blowing the neighbors garbage cans over, creating huge dustclouds and taking out a few powerlines on the way to work. that will make you popular with the neighbors!!!!
  • I see many posts here about things like "2001" and other futuristic stories that now seem quaint, laughable, etc.

    There's an important distinction between predicting the future and telling a story in the future. Movies such as 2001 just randomly pick a date that's "in the future" -- a time far enough away (from when it was made) that the viewer/reader can adequately suspend disbelief for the purposes of the story. Any date, really, will suffice.

    You can laugh at people who make bona fide predictions that "X will happen by year Y". Those are people who actually believe such things.

    But when taking in entertainment, always remember that Star Wars actually has the best blanket statement to suspend disbelief: that whole "In a galaxy far, far away" bit is nondescript but serves all purposes.

    - Matt
  • Carter Copters (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    There is a very group at work to fix some of the most serious problems with helicopters. Very promising stuff. See http://www.cartercopters.com/
  • Well, a limited number of places have something like that. For example, where I live (Victoria, BC) theres a helicopter service between here, Vancouver and Seattle, runs every hour. The use little, 12 person choppers.

    This is however a very special case because it takes 3 hours to get from Victoria to Vancouver by land/water even though they're only 35 kilometres apart.

    Most cities that are faily close together such as say Washington and Baltimore it just makes more sense to take a bus or a train, since it's far cheeper and there is no significant time advantage. (30 min by train as opposed to 10 min by helicopter). It just isn't worth it. Until the price of gas goes down (which it probably won't) or we find alternative fuel sources, there will never by any significant helicopter commuter services. Sig? Quel est sig?
  • by Rik van Riel (4968) on Friday October 11, 2002 @09:16PM (#4435161) Homepage
    Flight (still) has too much takeoff and landing overhead. Even if it was faster, people would go with the more convenient transport anyway.

    Btw,futurists often seem to forget about people. Even if there were machines that would cook for me, why would I want it? After a stressful day of looking at source code and trying to fix bugs I like to go to the kitchen, grab a beer and start cooking. I'm not going to pay to let some machine take away my hobby!
  • "Futurists", hah! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hyacinthus (225989) on Friday October 11, 2002 @09:22PM (#4435192)
    I am reminded of one of David Brin's essays in which he bashes George Lucas and Star Wars. (Let it be said that I've bashed Lucas and Star Wars myself a few times.) At one point Brin delivers himself of the self-serving observation that while Lucas and others like him are obsessed with the past, Brin himself looks to the future.

    Yes, indeedy, where would we be if it weren't for forward-thinkers like Dave Brin? Just about the same place, I guess. Science fiction writers' track record for predicting the future isn't really any better than that of your average "Weekly World News" fortune-teller, except that the fortune-tellers tend to risk their predictive powers on such quotidian affairs as whether Brad Pitt will stay married to whoever that ditz is from "Friends", while SF writers confine themselves to lofty predictions about the fate of human society and technology. Now and again, one of the sci-fi boys will accidentally get something right, or sort of close (thus has Asimov been credited with "predicting" pocket calculators), as opposed to all those other writers who "predicted" that we'd still be using slide rules),.

    As I see science fiction writers and futurists, we could have done without the whole clan of them and it wouldn't have made a scrap of difference. But one can say the same thing about any entertainment--I don't propose that entertainment _per se_ is useless, only that SF is just that, entertainment.

    hyacinthus.
    • by Saeger (456549) <farrelljNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday October 12, 2002 @06:01AM (#4436408) Homepage
      Don't be so quick to dismiss futurists - even when their predictions turn out to be incredibly offbase, they still serve to inspire the actual work of making the future happen.

      Here's how you make BAD PREDICTIONS [foresight.org]:

      • Ignore the scientific facts, or guess.
      • Forget to ask whether anyone wants the projected product or situation.
      • Ignore the costs.
      • Try to predict which company or technology will win.

      Flying cars could never have been LESS expensive than cars (fighting gravity costs more energy), and safely flying the things in 3D virtually requires guidance computers that are only now just capable.

      --

  • by kcbrown (7426) <slashdot@sysexperts.com> on Friday October 11, 2002 @09:31PM (#4435222)
    There are several reasons point-to-point personal flight isn't here yet (and may not ever be).

    • Technological limitations, including:

      1. Engine technology: a flying vehicle that can't glide requires highly reliable engines. Today that means turbines, but turbines are very inefficient compared with internal combustion engines. They do produce enough power to enable aircraft to fly very high, which does a lot to offset their inefficiency, since true speeds increase as you go higher.
      2. Form factor: without highly reliable engines, you'll need to be able to glide (or autorotate) to a landing. That means having airfoils on the vehicle, which greatly increases the overall size of the vehicle.
      3. Navigation and collision avoidance: only recently, with high speed miniature computers, has the technology become available to make going point to point in 3D in high traffic situations a possibility. Without it, the risk of a midair collision is too high to make it feasible for everyone to own a flying vehicle and to fly them from their homes.

    • Regulatory problems: personal aviation would be a much more popular and widely available means of travel if it weren't for the FAA. Many believe that they are necessary to ensure safety of flight, and I don't disagree with that role, but their method of regulating the industry has all but killed off personal aviation:

      1. Personal aircraft have increased in price in real, inflation-adjusted dollars by a factor of two or more in the last 30 years, and are not any safer despite their insane prices.
      2. The safety of personal aircraft has not changed significantly in the last 30 years, but the safety of automobiles has changed drastically, proving that the NHTSA's method of regulating the industry (requiring that vehicles have a minimum set of equipment and requiring that they pass certain safety tests, but requiring nothing else) is far superior to the FAA's.

        The FAA requires all of the following:

      3. The manufacturer's design must be certified by the FAA. The FAA requires specific behavioral characteristics from the aircraft.
      4. The manufacturer's manufacturing process must be certified by the FAA. The FAA must approve the materials you use, the build procedures you use, the quality control measures you use, etc.
      5. Any design changes must be approved by the FAA
      6. Changes to the manufacturing methods used to build the aircraft, including materials, techniques, machinery, etc., require that the entire manufacturing system go through recertification.
      7. Aftermarket modifications, which includes installation of new navigation and communication equipment, require the same basic certification by the FAA that airplanes require.

      8. Owners are not allowed to make any modifications themselves, nor are they allowed to do any but the most minimal maintenance (anything more requires a signoff from an FAA-approved maintenance technician, which usually means you may as well have them do the work).

      The end result is that the FAA has made it almost impossible for manufacturers and aircraft owners to improve their products. That means that aircraft safety can't improve, nor can the cost. So the only way to significantly improve an airplane's safety or cost is for the manufacturer to come out with a completely new design go through the entire certification process outlined above.

    • Public perception of flight. Many people believe that equipment failures in the air will result in instant death. For instance, many believe that if the engine of an airplane stops, the airplane will fall out of the sky, when the reality is that the pilot will be able to glide the airplane to a landing. Loss of an engine is a life-threatening issue only over mountainous terrain.

      People believe these things about aviation because the mass media (movies, news reports, etc.) has portrayed aviation in this light in order to make the news more spectacular and to make movies more exciting. But of course, that kind of excitement isn't what you're after when you're flying for real.

    The bottom line is that I don't think affordable personal aviation is ever going to happen because I don't believe the FAA will ever let it happen. The trend for the past 30 years has been for airplane prices to increase while at the same time production volume has decreased. These are the symptoms of a dying market.

    To resurrect affordable personal aviation, a large manufacturer (like Toyota) will have to get into the game. It will require an investment of billions (most of that will go into the mass production machinery required) and at least a couple of decades. The manufacturer will have to sell moderately capable (150 knots, 1000 mile range, 18,000 foot service ceiling, 4 seats), simple to fly airplanes for between $50,000 and $100,000. They will have to manufacture their own engines because the current manufacturers are still building engines that were designed back in the 1940's, using 1940s production techniques, for a minimum of $20,000 apiece. This will kill just about any other airplane manufacturer, who won't be able to adapt themselves to that kind of competition because the FAA won't let them. It will seriously depress the used airplane market, because nobody in their right mind would pay $70,000 for a 30-year-old 120-knot 4-seater when they can get a 150-knot brand new 4-seater for the same price.

    It'll be opposed by everyone: the FAA because they're 0wn3d by the airlines, the airlines because they'll lose a lot of short to medium range business, and many current aircraft owners, who view their aircraft as investments (used aircraft currently appreciate, not depreciate).

    But that's what it'll take to make affordable personal aviation a reality.

    • You are absolutely correct but left out a few items.

      1. The FAA also mandates inspections by FAA certified aircraft mechanics each year at the maximum or after so many hours of flight. If you miss an inspection the aircraft is forbidden to fly as it is not airworthy. The inspections can take some time and any defects found must be corrected before the craft can fly. A Piper Navajo inspection costs upwards of $2,500 and the aircraft may be out of service for some time. A side effect of this requirement, if there is to be a people's aircraft is that LOTS of certified aircraft mechanics would be required.
      2. Detailed logs must be kept of each flight, each repair, and each add-on. If the logs are not correct, spanning the whole life of the aircraft, it is not airworthy.
      3. The manufacturer and FAA provide notices of problems that sometimes require inspections, repairs, and replacement. The repairs must be complied with. You are not allowed to fly around with defects.
      4. Avionics are expensive to purchase, install, and maintain. The last time I checked three or four years ago a collision avoidance system cost $25,000. This would tend to put the price of the aircraft out of reach of most folks.
      5. It's hard to imagine a failsafe aircraft so I suppose some training including simulator training and certification will be required - probably with some sort of yearly medical inspection. If there is a problem and the aircraft needs to be auto-rotated it still has to be guided to a safe landing.

      All in all, I think that the typical person is not well suited to this degree of complexity, care, and expense and it won't happen any time soon.
      • As a pilot I can tell you, affordable flight already exists. Expensive, yes, but no more expensive than a nice car. IF, of course, you are willing to shop, buy used, and don't require 'sexiness' in your aircraft.

        A two seater Cessna 150 or 152 in good condition goes for about $20k, and will generally do 95-100 knots TAS and burns about 7 gallons per hour.

        A Beech Sundowner (my personal choice) will hold 3 adults plus fuel, has a range of six hours (more than most people's bladders), does about 105-110 knots, goes for around $40,000 and burns 8-9 gallons / hour.

        Annuals typically run $1,000-$2,000, fuel typically costs $2.50/gallon. Insurance is typically $800/year or so (post 9/11), less if you get your instrument rating.

        1. The FAA also mandates inspections by FAA certified aircraft mechanics each year at the maximum or after so many hours of flight.

        Part 91 (personal aircraft) only requires an annual. Commercial air carriers must submit to more rigorous inspections, such as 100 hour inspections, etc.

        If you miss an inspection the aircraft is forbidden to fly as it is not airworthy.

        In Germany, if your car misses its biannual inspection, it is illegal to drive.

        The inspections can take some time and any defects found must be corrected before the craft can fly.

        Some defects which affect air worthiness must be fixed. Others, which may be a good idea for safety but are not required to insure air worthiness you can either fix or put off. A wise pilot chooses to fix such things, but there are those who do not. Part of getting an annual done is discussing and working out with your mechanic what should be fixed now, and what makes more sense to put off.

        A Piper Navajo inspection costs upwards of $2,500 and the aircraft may be out of service for some time.

        As for time, annuals typically don't last more than a week or two, unless something is seriously wrong or a part is backordered.

        Which is what happened to a colleague of mine ... whose mechanic has had his car for over a month. I've never been without my airplane for a month.

        2. Detailed logs must be kept of each flight, each repair, and each add-on. If the logs are not correct, spanning the whole life of the aircraft, it is not airworthy.

        Not true. First, you are confusing pilot logs (logs of each flight, kept by and for the pilot in their own log book) with aircraft logs, of which there are two: airframe logs and engine logs.

        Second, the only thing that has to be certified is that the aircraft is currently airworthy, i.e. a certified aircraft mechanic has performed an annual within the last twelve months and signed off that the aircraft is airworthy. If logs are missing that is irrelevant, so long as the log showing the most recent annual is intact. Missing logs will decrease the value of the plane, they will not affect its air worthiness unless you've had the bad luck to lose the log book containing the most recent annual.

        3. The manufacturer and FAA provide notices of problems that sometimes require inspections, repairs, and replacement. The repairs must be complied with. You are not allowed to fly around with defects.

        If you are part 91, most ADs are to be complied with at the next annual. Commercial aircraft have more stringent requirements, of course. If an AD does require immediate inspection and repair (it happens, but is rare), that is akin to an automobile recall.

        4. Avionics are expensive to purchase, install, and maintain. The last time I checked three or four years ago a collision avoidance system cost $25,000. This would tend to put the price of the aircraft out of reach of most folks.

        Avionics are vastly overpriced. But most private planes do not have collision avoidance systems, moving map GPSes (Garmin 540 goes for about $14k installed). Most have the basic radio stack and navigational instruments, which are included in the prices I mentioned before. But yes, if you are feeling greedy for the latest fancy equipment it will cost you dearly, as will the latest, faster aircraft. So don't be greedy, fly an older, reliable, less sexy aircraft instead.

        All in all, I think that the typical person is not well suited to this degree of complexity, care, and expense and it won't happen any time soon.

        Agreed. However, the Germans don't just let anyone drive. A drivers license typically requires about $2,000 for the training and a fairly rigorous exam. Not as rigorous as a pilot exam and checkride by any stretch, but far more rigorous than the silly tests we in America take.

        However, if everyone were given rigorous flying lessons in high school (as we are drivers ed) and the prerequisites to becoming a private or instrument rated pilot remained as they are (fairly rigorous), I think the majority of people could become very competent pilots. Not every idiot, as we have with cars, but perhaps as many as 70-80%.

        Of course, the skies would be vastly more crowded, and that would present its own set of problems. Those issues are being addressed (smart autopilots, vastly better navigation and guidance equipment, etc.), but alas, that will be expensive.

        However, if someone wishes to become a competent pilot and fly today, in America at least it can be done on a budget, if you are careful and willing to forego the latest, sexiest toys in favor of used hand-me-downs.
  • by Feanturi (99866) on Friday October 11, 2002 @09:40PM (#4435268)
    I for one would be petrified to live in a city if everyone was flying. The average driver has enough trouble paying attention on the ground. And we may also assume that many of them barely squeaked by in their driver's exam. I shudder to think of personal flight units sailing all over the place, just waiting for the day I wake up to some asshole talking on his cellphone, crashing through my window. I don't believe that it is possible for this to be made properly safe. I will never trust computer navigation systems either, they're idiots too.

    Ginger scares the shit out of me as well. I'd love to pilot one, sure, but I don't need idiots whipping all over the place on these things. In all the various vehicles I've driven, I've never had an accident, for I always drive with the assumption that everyone else on the road is a complete idiot. Ie: Don't trust turn signals, speed changes, etc, without other cues to determine what the hell is really going on in that tiny brain behind the wheel. It seems to have worked so far.
  • by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Friday October 11, 2002 @09:45PM (#4435281) Homepage
    One problem with choppers is that they are hard to fly. They are harder than planes, and planes are harder to fly than cars are to drive. This used to be a big problem, but I think we are fast approching a time when any idiot could fly a chopper using a force-ball (you know, some 6-axis controller) and having a PC do all the work of controlling individual axis. On a side note, I think that it's much more likey that gyrocopters will ever be common than 'standard' helecopters.
  • One Reason (Score:3, Informative)

    by jchawk (127686) on Friday October 11, 2002 @10:01PM (#4435332) Homepage Journal
    One thing that most people don't understand is how hard it is to fly a helicopter. It is not as simple as driving a car where you go and take a test to prove you understand the traffic laws and then go out on a road course with a DMV person for 15 to 20 minutes.

    It takes years of schooling in order to be granted a helicopter pilots liscense. This is very costly, and requires a lot of time.

    It is not uncommon for people to go to college for flight (airplanes), and once successfully passing their flight exams to go on and study helicopter operation.

    My little sister is currently studying to be a commerical airline pilot and it will take her 4 years at the number flight school in the USA. Then if she wants to persue helicopters she has to take more classes and spent a lot more time gaining the airtime in a helicopter with an instructor, only then will she receive her helicoptiers liscense from the FAA. The FAA is strick and sometimes tough, and this is for good reason, would you trust any idiot with a piece of machinery like this? If they crash the thing into a crowded area they kill a whole lot people.

    Helicopters are not like cars, when you wreck a car, most of the time you can survive, or if you die, you don't kill anyone else. When you crash a helicopiter you are probably automatically dead.
  • Sikorsky wasn't really the inventor of the helicopter; the idea had been around for a long time before he got his hands on it, and some workable helicopter prototypes had even been built. But he is widely regarded as being the one who really got helicopters "off the ground" so to speak.

    It's not like the guy was totally detached from profit or fame attached to the technology. He would have greatly benefited from what he "predicted." Therefore, this prediction is not much more than an ad for his life work.

    It's kind of like if Linus said that in 80 years everyone would be running Linux. Nice wish for him, nice wish for us, ain't gonna happen. :)
  • If you think about it, air travel is only good for long distances or where speed is vital.

    I think (and hope) that we will see more innovation around different land transportation, such as Segway-like devices for personal transport,
    monorail [google.com]for intracity, and maglev [google.com]for high capacity intercity/interstate transport. The last two are ideal because you don't the waste of having to carry the fuel they use or going fast enough to maintain lift.

    Air will still be more cost/time effective for transcontinential and transoceanic travel.
  • by T.Hobbes (101603) on Friday October 11, 2002 @10:33PM (#4435427)
    In Sao Paulo, Brazil, there are somewhere around 300 private helicopters that those who can afford them use to avoid traffic and crime. They use them just like the plebes use cars. The best article I found on the topic is at aviation today (here [aviationtoday.com]).
    Of course, having 300 'copters in a city of unpteen million isn't exactly what the man predicted, but the patter of use is consistent.
  • The coming Air Rage
    Seriously, it's not so hard to make automated systems for collision avoidance. Much harder is to create pollution-free and cheap fuel engines (fuel cells? cold fusion?).
    Much much harder to resolve all the landscape and noise issues. Near Washington DC even small helicopter pad to which 6 or 7 helicopters expected to be landed created a lot of rage and crying from residents. Result is that that pad has never been built. And I think it's good.
  • A frigging mess (Score:5, Interesting)

    by A non moose cow (610391) <slashdot@rilo.org> on Friday October 11, 2002 @11:10PM (#4435556) Journal
    Personal aircraft will never be mainstream until they can reliably fly themselves from point 'a' to point 'b' without direct control from the passengers. If you give people control, it would be a horrible problem.

    Think of all the times people break out of the confines of traffic when the opportunity presents itself. How many times have you seen people drive up an embankment to get from a slow freeway to the feeder road? How could you possibly police all of the guaranteed violations of this type? This assumes that there is some form of infrastructure to create 'sky lanes' for people to stay in. What kind of mess would there be without some form of organized lanes?

    What about parking lots? How would you like to navigate the chaos of a parking lot in 3D? Would you find people in some sort of holding pattern over Woolworths so that they could make a mad dash for the "good spot" when someone takes off? Imagine an early morning commute where people do not trickle into a parking area because traffic lights limit their access, and lanes do not keep them in single file. If everyone decides to leave home at 'the perfect time' because they know exactly how long it takes them to fly to the office, then everyone who needs to be at work at 8:am will get to the parking lot at essentially the same time.

    What about the noise? When was the last time you heard a quiet aircraft? I can hear a single traffic helicopter approaching from a mile away when I am in my car. Think of the decibels generated by a freeway of such noisemakers.

    What about the fuel efficiency? these things have to maintain flight even at standstill. Ground vehicles do not have to expend energy to counteract gravity unless they are moving uphill. By the time automated personal flying vehicles become practical (by not allowing the occupants to break traffic laws), how efficient will ground vehicles be?

    I am rarely a naysayer of future ideas, but this idea has so many impracticalities that I find it to be a no-brainer. It will be nothing more then the folley of idiots for a very long time to come.

    The general public is too stupid to manuver safely in 3D.
  • by Chairboy (88841) on Friday October 11, 2002 @11:26PM (#4435621) Homepage
    I've read a bunch of threads from people who talk about how dangerous it will be to have so many people flying around, and I am reminded of how when cars first appeared, they would be escorted in town by sentries waving red flags because it was thought that the cars would be so inherently dangerous.
  • by Caractacus Potts (74726) on Friday October 11, 2002 @11:28PM (#4435628)
    The currently designed helicopter will not be the flying car of the future. As master Yoda would say "No, there is another". Meet the cyclogiro, our Navy's latest secret weapon [brtrc.com], and one of Russia's finest inventions [cyclogiro.com]. ;) They operate on the concept of cycloidal propulsion (see Google), which is mechanically complicated but more efficient and quiter than conventional designs.
  • A number of people think personal helicopters and air cars would be easier for humans to fly if they had autopilots to take care of pitch, yaw, etc., and a sort of collision avoidance system, therefore giving the aircraft some sort of "horse sense".

    But the horse sense would have to be good enough to avoid ground objects too, such as trees, buildings, power lines, radio towers and the ubiquitous cell phone network antennas. But more importantly, they would need a law abiding horse sense that would automatically avoid no-fly zones such as over nuke plants, refineries, prisons (imagine a sky car aided prison break), or anywhere else you have to stop at a guard shack before going inside.

    But I want my back yard to be a no-fly zone, too. I don't want someone to land in my back yard and steal my gas grill. And I'm sure businesses with fenced in outdoor storage wouldn't want to be descended upon by flying thieves, either. This would require designated landing lots and air car guidance systems that will only land at other designated landing lots. They needn't be all that big, in fact existing parking lots would do nicely. My street has maybe 30 houses, and maybe about 60 cars. They could land a flying car in the parking lot of the local gas station, gas up, then drive it the rest of the way home on the street. That way cities will not have to be planned around them. Until these requirements are met, I don't think there will ever be sky cars.
  • by ShooterNeo (555040) on Saturday October 12, 2002 @12:49AM (#4435841)
    Why didn't this happen?

    1. No matter how much automation is used to reduce manufacturing costs, air transport would use far more real resources than cars currently do. I mean more fuel, more materials, higher grade parts....everything would have been more expensive.

    2. Lets face the truth here. As a whole, the human race isn't really that smart. The average individual makes countless poor and irresponsible decisions, gets stuck in stupid patterns and addictions, stops learning most new things past a certain age...(the list continues) I'd also say that most slashdotters (myself included) fall into part of this category. I know I've made plenty of dumb mistakes, even when I was aware that I was doing so.

    There are simply not enough individuals in society capable of safely piloting these vehicles to put them into common use. There are not enough responsible mechanics who could keep fleets of these things running safely. Its not a lack of education : I'm saying we couldn't really find enough people to run this system who would be responsible enough.

    3. The current system of cars for (relatively) short distances and planes for long distance does work. While many complain of long commutes, citizens do make it to work...the system functions. It would take considerable investment to build a short distance air transport system that was really significantly better than the compromise in use today.

    How can this be built in the future?

    By removing the human from much of it. At some point (it may require computers "Turing capable") it should be practical to build computer controlled flying vehicles where the human may lack even manual overrides.

    To ease the maintainence problem, the flying machines moving parts would all be embedded with arrays of diagonostic sensors and the vehicle would refuse to start if a fault were detected. Any monkey of a mechanic could hopefully then swap out the faulty component, safely repairing the vehicle.
  • A Futurist's job, in almost all cases is to take a look at what is going on today, compare it to what has gone on before, and suggest trends that are likely to continue into the future. They are fully ready to recognize that what they suggest may not come to pass.

    As an example, a Futurist would look at sales in computers of various types, and observe that desktop sales are flat or decreasing, laptop sales are increasing slowly, and servers are relatively flat, with perhaps a slight increase in a few areas. Said Futurist would then look at why those figures are happening, and perhaps note that laptops today are far more powerful than the best desktops of five years ago, businesses are buying servers because they need to increase capacity. Desktop (tower/mini-tower) systems draw too much power, have more power than most are ever used for, and still cost more than they are worth to most people. Based upon those observations, a Futurist might suggest that "desktops" are going to be religated to two people, those who stress their machines, (gamers and hobbiests) Laptop sales will increase, and get less expensive. And Servers are going to become more flexible, with dynamic increases in capacity and power becoming selling points.

    As most will probably point out, none of the above seems to be particularly rocket science. Any good economics student could probably make the same analysis, and provide the same report. It is not Prophecy and so on.

    Do Futurists get things wrong? Are we wearing paper clothing as Alvin Tofler predicted in Future Shock? Yes, Futurists get things wrong. Though the paper clothing statement is probably a lot closer to reality than most people think. It is not unususal to find clothing made out of recycled materials. I have seen shoes and jackets that have been made out of recycled softdrink bottles. While I do not know where to get them myself, there are booties worn over shoes in some environments (hospitals for the most part) that are made of paper. Specifically because they are created and destroyed, and when destroyed take any biological hazards with them rather than putting them in the ocean and on our beaches.

    So while I am not aware of any high fashion shows presenting paper clothing, I do think that the Toflers got it at least partially right.

    At the other end of the "prediction" group are the people who make their predictions about your life based upon how you are reacting to them. I understand the money can be good, though there are occasional hazzards to be navigated.

    Futurists are neither soothsayers, nor doom sayers. They are researchers and analysts. Generally they are not afraid of making some bold statements about the future. They will coach those statements with "I could be wrong" or other qualifiers. And when they are wrong, if asked they should generally be ready to point out that they considered it to be a reasonable probability.

    Any business that hires a futurist probably is looking for the trends they should try to move into, rather than a specific product to start promoting. Once they have reason to believe a trend is likely, they can start making strategic and subsequently tactical decisions on how to participate, or avoid that trend.

    With the earlier analysis, Zookd Computers, Inc. _may_ decide that making inexpensive (to produce) laptops will be likely to return a much larger profit over the long term than trying to sell top of the line traditional workstations. And while they will continue to make some of the traditional workstations, providing some very good platforms will tend to promote their hLnb laptop line as a reasonable replacement for standard desktops. Not to mention they work really well with their extreamly popular hOnc Mp3 player.

    Fencehole Computers will look at what Zookd Computers is doing, and pick one product and make a similar computer with a significantly poorer feature set, and try to sell them for just about the same price that Zookd is selling their hLzb desktop units for.

    Lled will look at Fencehole and just shake their head as they come out with more powerful servers, and reasonable laptops, and find some anoying kid to hawk them on every channel they can buy ad space from.

    Then again maybe I am just reading too much into the earlier analysis.

    -Rusty
  • Carter Copters [cartercopters.com] has been working feverishly for several years now on a vertitcal take off and landing aircraft. That combines the traits of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft with GryoCopters.

    The specs [cartercopters.com] are pretty impressive. Coast to Coast on 1 tank of gas. 450mph cruise speed at over 35,000 feet, Zero Roll take off and short field landing. 5 Passengers. Plus luggage.

    Here are some pics [cartercopters.com] and [cartercopters.com] vids. [cartercopters.com] They had a good demo [cartercopters.com] at the OSHKOSH Air Show [cartercopters.com]
  • Of all the "personal flight" ideas out there, the Moller skycar [moller.com] seems to have the most potential. I heard the designer, Paul Moller, being interviewed on Coast to Coast AM [artbell.com] recently, and was captivated. Looking at the design, it seems very "car-like," with no exposed rotor edges or wings; it basically looks like a car with small jet engines instead of wheels. During the interview, the designer made a big point of explaining the integral safety systems: each turbojet is actually two turbojets, so if one fails the other takes over; there are three separate computers on board (one primary, two backups), etc. It runs on regular gasoline, gets mileage comparable to a car (over 25mpg), is quiet (85dB @ 50 feet, and they're working to reduce it further), and most importantly, is a VTOL (vertical take off and landing) craft. They've been developing this for the last few decades (check their design history on the site) and are working with the FAA to obtain "powered lift" certification for the Skycar- on the interview I remember one of his points was that getting a license for the Skycar should be easier than getting a driver's license.
  • "see and use hundreds of short-run helicopter bus services."

    There have been short run helicopter services in US cities which used heli pads on top of city buildings.

    He goes on to write about personal helicopters which fit in large garages and that helicopters that are easier to drive than cars, etc..

    There are cheap helicopters that are built with small budget in mind which are marketed towards individuals and give good milage.

    Lamborghini made a VERY small heli which only holds one man (very snuggly). Robinson R22's are really cheap too.

    I've flown an R22. Starting it up sounds like starting up a lawnmower.

    Helicopters as easy to pilot as cars? OK, now that is wildly wrong. : )

  • Remember that the kinetic energy involved in flying is a lot greater than for most cars; even a Cessna is doing 150-200 mph, while few cars are doing that during the morning commute. That makes any collision much more dangerous, be it with the ground or with other planes/cars. I suspect that death/injury rates are similar for general aviation and racing cars, since the speeds are similar.

    So if we ever see widspread personal flying, I wouldn't be surprised if it was using some form of ultra-light, with speeds in the 50-100 mph range.

    As for personal helicopters - the things are hell to maintain. I know people who think getting a tune-up at 100,000 miles is a pain. Imagine trying to fly a chopper for ten years with no maintenance...

  • How the hell am I going to fit a helicopter through a Taco Bell drive up window at 2am?! I have enough trouble getting my CAR through one sometimes. :P

I tell them to turn to the study of mathematics, for it is only there that they might escape the lusts of the flesh. -- Thomas Mann, "The Magic Mountain"

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