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Where's My Flying Car?
Designing a World Without Gravity (2)
Gregory Daigle (gdaigle)     Print Article 
Published 2005-12-26 17:44 (KST)   

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In the 1960s the Saturday morning American cartoon The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle introduced the world to upsidaisium, that fanciful antigravity element discovered by the uncle of Bullwinkle J. Moose. In the show the title characters triumphantly rode their upsidaisium mine (actually the mine AND the entire Mt. Flatten) to Washington D.C.

Sadly, upsidaisium does not exist, though the dream of antigravity flight endures.

Introduction of New Tech

The successful introduction of any new technology, including gravity-lensing, must meet minimal criteria for safety and economy. They include:

1) The new technology must be competitively priced both to purchase and to operate in comparison to conventional technologies.

2) It must operate at an efficiency that allows it to perform work at various scales.

3) Its operation must not present unacceptably high risks to operators, citizenry, or the environment.

4) Any byproducts of its usage must be managed and disposed of safely.
The use of the term antigravity has been a hindrance to earnest research. Dr. Ron Koczor of the Science Directorate, NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center knows about choosing the terminology to match your audience. Speaking for himself, he said, 쏻hen you talk to the general public or the kids whose eyes are half-glazed with anticipation, call it antigravity. But when you talk to people who control the course of research and who themselves have the credibility of their decisions questioned by higher-ups, I think you need to rethink your use of that term.

In Part 1 of this series the term gravity-lensing replaced antigravity as a description of the phenomenon observed by inventor Marcus Hollingshead. But what should we call its range of effects including propulsion, standing fields, etc?

If gravity-lensing aligns with the Earth셲 gravitational field then it produces the effect of more than 1G of gravity, also known as hypergravity (hG). If it is contra-aligned then it produces less than 1G of gravity, also known as microgravity (mG or 關G). What would a future with modified (either hG or 關G ) gravity — call it modG — look like and what are the potential impacts for propulsion?

Attempts to modify gravity for propulsion are not isolated to inventors. NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and BAE Systems (a major British aerospace company) have all conducted gravity research. It has been reported on by corporate journals such as Business Week, mainstream magazines like Popular Mechanics and in scientific journals such as the American Institute of Physics.

Hovering vehicle
©2005 Syd Mead (1979)
How could an inventor have succeeded where NASA failed? Without verification the claims about such a device sound like science fiction. But many inventions and discoveries were science fiction until the very day they were revealed.

If true, what we셪l see is that the long dreamed of skycar of the future may be preceded by a sky conveyor belt, and the futuristic spaceport will look more like Duluth harbor than Star War셲 Mos Eisley.

Future Visions

In 1979 the visual futurist
Syd Mead depicted a family arriving at a picnic in a hovering station wagon in his book "Concept" for U.S. Steel. That friendly image of a hovering automobile contrasts greatly with the flying police vehicles Mead later designed for the dystopic film "Blade Runner". In that movie the spinner vehicles were a symbol of police power and authority while common citizens were restricted to ground transportation.

A Short History of Personal Flight Vehicles

Late 1940s – In American movie serials such as Buck Rogers and Commander Cody, the "jet pack" became a familiar site to matinee-watching kids. These products of Hollywood anticipated actual engineered prototypes.

Early 50s – A working version of the jet pack called the "JetVest" preceded the Bell Rocket Belt, made familiar in the James Bond movie "Thunderball".

New devices currently under study include vertical takeoff (VTOL) vehicles such as the Trek Aerospace Springtail.

Full "flying cars":
Late 1950셲 – A classic is Molt Taylor셲 Aerocar circa 1956. It was a two-seater jelly bean of a car that towed its wings and tail section behind it when on the road.

Today – The Skyblazer is a planned 쐒oadable aircraft, a dual purpose vehicle able to transform from road-ready to air-ready.

If you have the cash, you can reserve a VTOL Moeller Skycar at the affordable price of $500,000!
As the film
The Fifth Element portrayed, traffic can also take over a city and dehumanize it. As early as 1940 Norman Bel Geddes in his publication Magic Motorways portrayed a city dominated by the automobile with nothing of human scale in sight. Would flying cars doom cities to become the megastructures of film, or is that just in the movies?


In a 2004 interview [.wma download] with the editor of the American Antigravity newsgroup, Hollingshead mentioned that one of the first applications he considered for his device was to reduce the load (also the inertia) of commercial aircraft. But sci-fi fans want to know, "Where is my flying car?"

First, is it a car? All but hovering vehicles that rely upon ground-effect for lift are classified as aircraft under the UN's International Civl Aviation Organization (ICAO). So flying cars that lift more than a few feet off the ground might be classified as aircraft, but a modG craft would operate like no known aircraft.

It would be highly maneuverable and operate low to the ground like a helicopter — but it셲 not a rotorcraft. In the U.S. the closest applicable Federal Aviation Association (FAA) category is that of an airship, an engine-driven, lighter-than-air vehicle that can be controlled in flight.

1956 Aerocar: a personal flying car. Photo credit: Wayne White/Fiddlersgreen.net
Since a gravity airship is not conventional and not a gas-filled envelope (as required by the FAA) it needs to be called something else. For now, let's call this vehicle a gravityship because rather than being dependent upon the force of Earth셲 air to produce buoyancy it is dependent upon the force of Earth셲 gravity.

As a commuter vehicle it would probably operate in
Class G airspace. It is uncontrolled airspace where helicopters operate: altitudes 1200 feet above ground level (AGL) and less. In Class G airspace the rules for right-of-way are a little like boating, where the slower and less maneuverable your craft the greater your right-of-way. For example, a motorboat yields to a sailboat, which yields to a canoe. In Class G airspace a power-driven, heavier-than-air craft gives way to airships, gliders and balloons. Hang gliders or cluster balloons may be of some concern, but the real issue here is rules of the HIGH-way when encountering other gravityships.

The Crowded Skies

Look up. Not many blimps in the sky today. But if personal gravityships are produced then the skies are going to get crowded. Where do you 쐀uild a highway in uncontrolled airspace? Is it a corridor above existing boulevards and interstate highways? Why even follow a highway if you are not constrained by lanes? Straight line express to your destination? Hubs? Spokes? Interchanges? Sounds confusing and dangerous. We will need an airspace control system to keep us safe.

Luckily there is a candidate technology for airspace that is already positioned to make our land-based highways safer. It셲 called the
Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). The U.S. Department of Transportation is using the ITS architecture to integrate intelligent vehicles with intelligent infrastructure for a safer, more efficient transportation system. Implementing a similar system of intelligent sensors and adaptive integrated systems into gravityships would be a necessity. Without ITS for airspace it would be like watching a demolition derby — overhead!

So smart sensors and ITS help vehicles avoid collisions and manage incidents. But what about defining the boundaries of lanes? Keeping arteries flowing smoothly? There could be floating traffic signals and buoys (our thanks to the Jetsons for those innovations), but why clutter the sky with added devices? This is where efforts to establish wireless cities might mesh with the use of gravityships.

Wireless Mesh Avoids Mess

Dozens of cities across the globe are planning muniwireless networks as alternatives to DSL and Cable modem connections to the Internet. One concern for deploying wireless is the power of the signal to punch through your home셲 exterior and interior walls to reach your receiver. But this is not a concern when you셱e trying to detect the signal above the nodes where there are no barriers.

When you have a clear view of a node it셲 known as line-of-sight (LoS). The LoS range for even older wireless technology is measured in the kilometers. The altitude limit of Class G airspace is less than half a kilometer. That셲 plenty of range for sending information to vehicles flying overhead. Information to navigate, communicate and locate (see insert).

Networked Platforms

Question: How do you ensure the success of a new technology today?
Answer: Make it an essential strategy for the corporate giant Wal-Mart.

Networked Airspace

Networked airspace ITS could be made possible through suitable wireless technologies:

Global Positioning System (GPS) - a satellite navigation system used for determining one's precise location through trilateration and providing a highly accurate time reference almost anywhere on Earth.

General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) - a mobile data service available to users of GSM mobile phones. GPRS can utilize an intelligent location-based service.

Location-based Wi-Fi - systems have been announced by Ekahau and Skyhook Wireless.
This has been true with RFID chips and it could be true with modG. The biggest horizontal industry in the world is logistics (getting raw materials in, processing of products, packaging them, transporting them, warehousing them, distributing them, retailing them to the consumer). Wal-Mart succeeds as they do because they own the complete supply chain. If Wal-Mart knew there was a technology to transport and distribute their goods for pennies less on the dollar, they would bring it to maturity.

A grid of pilotless platforms controlled by ITS and carrying a wide range of cargo containers could navigate between cities/nodes by satellite GPS and within cities by Wi-Fi. Shipping goods between cities is perhaps the largest growth area for modG, even surpassing transport for people.

The system could be designed using the model of the Internet. Individual packetized shipments could travel point-to-point to their destinations as if they were physical manifestations of TCP (transmission data) packets used to deliver information over the Internet. Distribution centers would be unnecessary.

Local point-of-delivery transport within neighborhoods could be navigated by means of municipal mesh wireless location services tracking packages, confirming delivery and alerting the receiver of delivery via their IP or email address. Recipients could even change the final delivery destination on-the-fly by querying the system. This would allow recipients to have packages follow them to whatever location they might be within a city.

It would take many years of testing before such a freight-based ITS would be ready to graduate to human passengers in gravityships. Until that time the skies would be mostly filled with platforms and packages. Only the occasional early-adopter would fly their unlicensed experimental gravityship (or perhaps a gravitycycle?).

Is There Spaceport in Your Future?

Paul Horwood, moderator of the Antigravity_open-source newsgroup, relays in a posting that Hollingshead claims to have a contract with the European Space Agency to produce propulsive drives. Further, that he has over 50 million pounds in investment funds and employs 50 people. How would ESA use such a drive?

The International Space Station and shuttle demonstrated the potential for large-scale production of new materials and pharmaceuticals in microgravity. But an ability to control gravity through modG would mean that microgravity and zero-gravity production could be conducted on the ground in conventional manufacturing facilities. Factories in space would be unnecessary. So the remaining rationale for going into orbit would be for transporting people and raw materials.

Takeoff from Virgin Galactic spaceport
©2005 Virgin Galactic
The people interested in traveling to space would be either space tourists or astronauts. The Ansari X Prize was a step toward space tourism and commercialization. Virgin Galactic (owned by Sir Richard Branson) has now set plans for the first commercial spaceport to be located in New Mexico and be completed by 2009 or 2010. Tourism is the necessary focus of this effort because, even though the tickets are $200,000 and there are hundreds who have signed up, the ships can not reach orbit. Nevertheless, it should be quite a ride!

If you can use modG to deliver platforms inexpensively above the atmosphere then every one of them becomes not just a satellite but a geosynchronous satellite, suitable for all sorts of communications needs. They can move synchronously above the Earth because platforms wouldn셳 have to reach orbital speed (17,000 to 18,000 mph) to stay aloft. The Earth only rotates at a bit over 1,000 mph at the equator, which is why one of the first jobs for the platforms would be to remove the millions of pieces of debris traveling at orbital speed. Why? Because they are traveling past you faster than a rifle bullet!

Payload for the platforms would be astronauts and rocket fuel. Remember that gravity decreases with the inverse square of the distance. It may be an inexpensive means for launching and landing compared to rockets, but between planets (or the moon, or asteroids) you셝 get more propulsion from rockets.

Saving your rocket fuel for the large distances between destinations decreases transit time and allows for greater payloads on the return trip. Minerals from the moon? Corner the market on hematite 쐀lueberries from Mars? Possibly, but the business argument is still difficult to make. Even so, someone will want to have their kitchen counters built with slabs of sedimentary stone from Mars or mine the kimberlite pipes of Olympus Mons.

Space travel suggests establishment of a spaceport. Traditional rocketry required a large area near open water or desert for boosters to fall (or fail) downrange. Kennedy Space Center is located on the coast of Florida. The Canadian Space Agency operates the Churchill Rocket Research Range on Hudson Bay. Using modG propulsion there would be no boosters and no downrange — just up. A more fitting model reflecting the smaller area needs would be a large airport or shipping port.

Each nation, region and state would want to create their own facilities to benefit local commerce and to draw talent, jobs and investors. A major international airport and shipping port already transporting millions of tons of cargo a year would be a prime candidate for the location of the first industrial spaceport. Okay. Where do we locate the first one?

Mt. Flatten Redux

Remember Bullwinkle J. Moose of upsidaisium fame? His home was Frostbite Falls in northern Minnesota. How fitting it would be to establish the first industrial spaceport in northern Minnesota at the tip of Lake Superior. The city of Duluth has an international port there, one of the largest in America as gauged by tonnage. It has an international airport and a world-class aircraft maintenance facility. The B. J. Moose Spaceport. Kind of catchy.
Part 3 will look at Living in Airspace.

Gregory Daigle is a consultant in social technologies and e-learning, and a former professor of industrial design.

Thumbnail credit: The Jetsons ©1962 Hanna-Barbera
©2005 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Gregory Daigle

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