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TinotopiaLog → Flying Cars (18 Jul 2001)
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Wednesday 18 July 2001

Flying Cars

I’d just like to ask, where the hell are the flying cars? I mean, here it is the twenty-first century, and I’m still creeping along in traffic on the ground like some kind of schmuck.

The argument that I most often hear against flying cars is this: Drivers have a hard enough time driving in two dimensions; add another dimension, and we’d all be dead within a month.

I don’t think this is true at all, and I’d like to explain why.

First, most traffic doesn’t work in two dimensions at all. It works in one dimension.

Just off the bottom of this illustration, imagine that there’s a big concrete wall. The driver of the blue car can control his speed, and little else. He can go faster, or he can go slower, or he can stop all together. He can’t move to the left without getting hit by the oncoming red cars. And if one of those red drivers is drunk or British (or both) and decides to suddenly drive on the wrong side of the road, the blue car is going to be making a trip to the body shop or the junkyard; there’s just nothing the driver can do.

Operating in two dimensions is actually much safer.

In this picture, the two cars can chase each other around this parking lot all day long without the risk of a collision, because they’re actually acting in two dimensions. One of the drivers can even put on makeup, talk on a cell phone, and eat a Whopper at the same time, provided that: 1. This driver has more than the usual number of arms, and 2. The other driver is paying attention.

(Note that in this illustration, as in real life, the lines painted on the asphalt are not actually large enough for the little cars to park there, at least not without getting some nasty dings in the sheet metal into the bargain. This is intentional, and should not be attributed to laziness or inattention on the part of Tinotopia Graphic Design GmbH, which produced the images.)

Now, imagine that the little cars are in fact little flying cars, zipping along in the sky. The driver of the little red car stops suddenly because some geese are crossing his path. Some things are the same in the sky and on the ground.

The driver of the following car now has at least four options: he can go to the left or right of the red car (since, without a road to build, there’s no reason for the opposing traffic to be inches away, and there are no trees or concrete walls on the other side), or he can go above or below.

This makes real computer-controlled (or at least computer-assisted) travel possible. Cars these days can be equipped with radar, or GPS systems, but they can’t actually control the car. There are too many obstacles like trees, curbs, medians, etc. to keep track of. It requires a person.

With flying cars, though, travel would just be a matter of telling the car where you wanted to go. The car would plot a course using GPS, and avoid collisions with other flying cars by communicating with their computers. Every flying car would continuously send out a short-range radio signal giving its location. Flying cars that determined that they were on a collision course with other flying cars would then negotiate course deviations to allow them to cross at different altitudes. The driver’s reactions and abilities wouldn’t enter into it. The driver’s duties, if he so chose, would be only be to pilot the thing the last few feet (where GPS accuracy would be an issue) and to park the car.

I will be revisiting the flying car issue some more in the future. Primarily, I’d like to address the issue of where flying cars would be allowed to go. Most people wouldn’t like them buzzing their backyards on straight-line courses; I’ve come up with a solution to that that will not cause traffic problems in the sky.

Posted by tino at 13:00 18.07.01
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