Some New Articles from HeroX

fusion-quotepanel-reactorI know, I promised I would stop doing this. But the other publication I started writing for – HeroX – now has two new articles written by yours truly. Luckily, I have now added pages for both this website and Universe Today so you can see any news ones that have been added to the queue. If you feel like it, that is 😉

My most recent article for HeroX was about the promise of cold fusion, which is getting very close to realization. In the past few years, a number of developments have been made that is making the technology more practical, more cost-effective, and even more compact.

https://herox.com/news/134-is-fusion-the-way-of-the-future/

And here is my first installment for HeroX, which deals with the burgeoning trend of flying cars. Sure, they may be fourteen years late – weren’t we promised flying cars by the 21st century? – and they still aren’t quite affordable. But progress is being made!

https://herox.com/news/133-the-case-for-flying-cars/

The Future is Here: Crowdfunded Flying Cars!

flying_carsYes, after years of expectations and failed promises, flying cars have finally arrived! Okay, arrived may be a bit of a strong word. But the prototype has been built, and all that’s needed now is some final safety testing to get FAA approval. Then, aerospace inventor Paul Moller will have realized his thirty-year dream of bringing a viable flying car to the market. And to raise money for these tests, he’s mounted a crowdfunding campaign.

Known as the M400X (aka. Skycar), this car is the a vertical take-off and landing vehicle that is also capable of horizontal flight. Powered by eight ethanol-fueled engines, it is designed to cruise at a speed of 500 km/h (315 mph) at a of height of 7600 meters (25,000 feet), or 320 km/h (200 mph) at sea level. A four-seat model that is about the size of a large SUV, this car weighs only 545 kilograms (1,200 lbs), thanks to a carbon fiber and Kevlar composite shell.

flying_cars1In total, it is expected to be able to fly for roughly 1200 (750 miles) without refueling, giving it a fuel economy of roughly 10 km/liter (25 mpg). In addition, a top land speed of 50 km/h (30 mph) makes short-distance street travel feasible. In these respects, it is far more sophisticated than other flying car designs – such as the Airbike and Terrafugia – in that it does not require an airport runway to take off and land, but can taxi when it needs to cover only a small stretch of ground.

The campaign began last month over at Indiegogo and will run to January 4th 2014, by which time, Moller and his company (Moller Int) hope to raise $958,000 of the $1.89 million needed to install the motors and FAA-required safety elements in the vehicle. Naturally, every donation comes with a prize, depending on the amount of money donated. And the grand prize, for a cool $15,000 dollars, is a chance to ride shotgun on the maiden voyage of the Skycar.

flying_cars_m400xOf that total, $932,000 has already been pledged by Nitroturbodyne – an FAA-designated engineering firm handling flight testing – and a former Moller subsidiary named Freedom Motors, which built the rotary engines, and the CliC protective goggles. By going the crowdfunding route, as opposed to corporate sponsorships, stock shares, or venture capital, Moller Int. hopes to raise the money faster while retaining more company control.

Moller, an inventor and TED talker, was also a professor of aeronautics at the University of California before starting the company in 1983. According to him, the decision to crowdfunds was a way of ensuring that public participation in the project, without the need for centralized measures like stocks:

We didn’t want to dilute the stock value by issuing more shares. Crowdfunding is a way for the average person to make a direct contribution towards a specific project without having to buy stock. This way, we can give really nice gifts and make people part of a team that can help make this happen.

All proceeds from the Indiegogo campaign will be used to prepare the Skycar for a June public unveiling where it will conduct an official test flight at an altitude of 600 meters (2,000 feet). Another six months of testing to meet FAA requirements will follow, before donors get their guest flights. After that, Moller will donate the M400 to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

flying_cars2From there, he’ll focus on a smaller, two-person Skycar M200 (seen above), which will be made available to the public in about five years time – assuming all goes according to plan. If you have any interest in donating to this cause, which will see a millennial dream become a reality at long last, just go to the Indiegogo page and pledge what you like. Then start saving your pennies for the when the 200 model hits the market. It’s likely to be pricey!

And in the meantime, be sure to check out this promotional video from Moller International:

 


Sources: fastcocreate.com, indiegogo.com

The Future of Transit: (More) Robotaxis and Podcars!

Robotaxi_2getthereIn the course of the past century, science fiction has provided us with many interesting visions of what the future of transportation will look like. And whereas not long ago, many of these seemed like hopeless fantasy – such as the failure of flying cars or robotic automated vehicles to become a reality by 2000  – recent years and developments have seen reality slowly catching up.

Case in point, last year, the European company named “2GetThere” installed a small fleet of automated podcars (aka. robotaxis) in the eco-friendly community of Masdar City. Similarly, the town of San Jose began work on the Personal Rapid Transit System – a series of on-call, point to point transit cars designed to replace the town’s system of taxis and buses, providing an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional mass transit.

London_podcarAnd most recently, the town of Milton Keynes – a sleepy city north of London – that is planning on conducting a podcar system trial run by 2015. Similar to the system at Heathrow Airport, which uses 21 on-call podcars on a  4 km (2.5 mile) stretch of track, the system will consist of a series of pods that will be able to carry two passengers, plus baggage, from the town’s train station to its downtown offices and the shopping district.

Milton Keynes’ plans is much more ambitious, calling for a fleet of 100 vehicles that will travel with far ore independently, albeit in a designated lane with curbs. The trial will assess safety and how people (and animals) react to them. The pods travel at up to 19 km/h (12 mph) and will contain GPS, cameras, and sensors to ensure they don’t crash into anything.

robotaxiAnd if all goes well, the system will be adopted by 2017 and residents will pay little more than a bus fare ($3.20) to travel in automated luxury. Purpose-built in the 1960s, Milton Keynes has an unusual grid layout that makes it an ideal testing ground for a plan that other British cities are seriously considering. Given the dual issues of congestion and pollution in British cities, a system of robotaxis seems like the perfect solution.

In fact, such a solution is ideal when it comes to all major cities around the world. The state of robotics, automation, centralized grids, and the reduced impact electrical transit has compared to gasoline-powered cars and buses, we could be looking at a world where every major city has its own system of robotaxis in the near future.

And I imagine a massive grid of Hyperoops lines will be connecting every major city… The future is likely to be mighty cool! In the meantime, enjoy this video of Heathrow’s podcar system in action:


Sources:
fastcoexist.com, heathrowairport.com

The Future is Here: Holovision and PointGrab!

holovisionNothing spells future quite like a life-size hologram in your living room, does it? And much like flying cars and personal jetpacks (though these too are in development), holographics has been one promise that appears to be slow in materializing. However, thanks to the work of California-based company known as Provision, this promise is approaching reality.

Their invention is known as the  Holovision, a life-size holographic projector that uses what is called aerial or volumetric imaging – a way of producing 3D images without special glasses, lenses or slits. It uses a digital LCD screen and a concave mirror to produce the illusion of a 3D image floating outside the projector, and can produce clearer images without generating multiple views or causing dizziness or nausea.

holovision-0For some time now, Provision has been making 3D projectors as marketing tools, but is now running a Kickstarter campaign aimed at raising US$950,000 to fund the development of new technology for the projector, with hopes of unveiling it next year. Currently, the company’s largest projector can only produce an 18-in (45.7-cm) image, but the goal is to create one 6 feet (1.8 m) tall that projects 7 ft (2.1 m) from the screen and is visible within a 100-degree arc.

This will require developing new optics and a new light source. But once this is achieved, Provision plans to miniaturize the system to the size of a toaster for the game console market before expanding to applications in education, medicine, video conferencing and other fields. Just imagine, phone conversations or Skyping where you get to talk to a life-size representation of the person! I know one person who would be thrilled about this, though I imagine he’d want a bigger projector for himself…

ESB_emperorThe Kickstarter campaign runs through August 14 and the public debut of the system is scheduled for March, 2014. So far, the project has collected $13,112, a mere 1% of its total goal. However, they are just getting started, and have seven months to go. So if you’ve got money and want holographics to become a permanent part of gaming, teleconferencing and social media, invest now!

In a similar vein, gesture control, something that has also been explored heavily in science fiction, appears to be getting a boost as well. For those who do not own an Xbox Kinect or are unfamiliar with the technology (or just haven’t seen Minority Report), gesture control is essentially a motion capture technology that monitors a person’s movements and gestures as an interface.

minority-reportAnd it is companies like PointGrab that are looking to make this type of interface the norm for computing, relying on a technology known as Hybrid Action Recognition (HAR). Unlike previous gesture recognitions software, the company claims that the updated version that they recently launched is 98% accurate and takes advantage of numerous advances that will make the technology mainstream.

The biggest advance comes in the form of being able to tell the difference between intentional movement, such as putting your fingers to your lips to mute a TV or computer, and unintentional gestures, such as scratching your lip. In addition, PointGrab has updated its machine learning algorithms to accommodate more environmental factors, such as different lighting conditions and hand sizes, to improve accuracy.

gesture-controlAccording to Assaf Gad, vice president of marketing and product for PointGrab, its all about accommodation. And this is really just the beginning:

We don’t want to teach people how to interact with devices. The devices have to be smart enough to analyze the body language of user and act accordingly.

Based in Israel, PointGrab has been working on gesture recognition interfaces since 2008. Two other Israeli companies, Eyesight and Extreme Reality, are also developing gesture and body movement recognition software platforms that work with a variety of devices equipped with standard 2D cameras. In addition, Leap Motion just introduced a hardware controller for enabling gesture control, and Microsoft’s Xbox One will enable control of more than games with its updated Kinect technology.

eyeSight-3D-Gesture-ControlAnd according to Gad, this is really just the beginning. Soon gesture control will be integrated with other emerging technologies to create much more intelligent interfaces:

I see it as good sign that we are in the right place to change way people interact. In the near future, we’ll see more solutions that combine voice and gesture, as well as 3D.

An exciting prospect, and very futuristic! Now if only someone would get on those damn flying cars already. It’s the 21st century, we were promised flying cars! And be sure to enjoy this video of the PointGrab software in action:


Sources: dvice.com, news.cnet, kickstarter.com

Robot Cars in Five Years?

Could it be, that after decades of failed predictions, especially where flying cars were concerned, that science is finally making good on its promise of robot cars? Well, according to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, that’s what’s going to happen. Just two days ago, Brin was on hand for the signing of a bill in the California legislature which establishes safety and performance standards for cars operated by computers on California roads and highways. As the third state to pass this law – Nevada and Florida have already signed similar provisions – California will now allow licensed drivers to use automated vehicles, once they become commonplace.

Apparently, Google has been testing the concept quite extensively. Several prototypes have been developed, and over 300,000 miles worth of driving have been conducted for the sake of testing the software. Brin admits that their are bugs that still need to be worked out, such as improving the sensors and hardware failure supports for the technology. In addition, there are the big challenges of adapting the vehicles to “tricky situations”, such as weather conditions, temporary construction, and emergency vehicles. In any and all of these cases, the robots need to be able to interpret the situation and respond accordingly.

However, Sergey and Larry are confident, stating that “Our vehicles, of which about a dozen are on the road at any given time, have now completed more than 300,000 miles of testing. They’ve covered a wide range of traffic conditions, and there hasn’t been a single accident under computer control.” And, unless science fiction and futursist have been lying to me all this time, the robot cars are likely to come with manual control as well, just in case the driver feels the need to take the wheel and do a little hands-on driving! After all, the purpose of this technology is ensure our safety and comfort right? And what’s more comfortable than turning on the autopilot?

Source: CNET News

Cool Cars

Just yesterday I was busy hearing about the new Zombie Car, an invention which is going to be unveiled at the next Comic Con. A collaboration between The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman and Hyundai, the car will essentially incorporate all the zombie-fighting features that a post-apocalyptic vehicle needs.

As it happens, one of my followers mentioned how this vehicle reminded her of the Batmobile and other cool cars. Between that and the allusions to Mad Max that the Zombie Car inevitably inspires, I got to thinking that this site is in need of a list of Cool Cars! And here it is, all the cool vehicles that have appeared in pop culture over the years, more often than not, as part of a science fiction franchise.

M577 APC:
Not so much a car as a tank, but she drives on four wheels and is VERY cool. So I don’t see why the M577 from the Aliens franchise shouldn’t be included on this list. Much like all APC’s, the purpose of this low-sitting but heavy hitting vehicle was to act as a battle taxi, deploying a squad of Marines to the field and then pulling them out in a hurry if things got harry. Designed to fit aboard a Cheyenne Dropship, it was part of the Colonial Marines quick deployment strategy.

As Hudson so righteously bragged in the movie, the M577 is decked out with some pretty impressive weaponry. For instance, the foldable turret mounted on the top carries a twin 20mW Boyars PARS-150 phased plasma cannon which is capable of making 1000 discharges. At the front end of the vehicle, a dual set of RE700 20mm Gatling cannons is built on a small swivel turret. In addition, it also carries plenty of small arms and munitions for its Marine compliments, consisting of pulse rifles, smart guns, flame units, grenades, rockets and even canisters of nerve gas.

Batmobile:
Now here’s a popular vehicle, so popular that’s gone through several variations over the years. From the campy 60’s version of the original Adam West series to the sculpted Burton remake to the Tumbler of the Nolan series, the Batmobile is a nostalgic icon which is constantly being reinvented. But all versions have two things in common. One, they’re crime-fighting specials, which means they have all kinds of gadgets and features. Two, they’re none to shabby to look at and probably a hell of a lot of fun to drive!

In the earliest Batman comics, the Batmobile was simply a sedan that served as Batman’s car. As time went on, it began to reflect Batman’s motif, including wing-shaped tailfins, dark colors, and even armor. Additional customizations, like crime-fighting gadgets also found their way into the design, and soon, a classic was born!

By the time of the original series, the Batmobile was based around the chassis of a Lincoln Futura and featured fully-functioning gadgets. These included a gas turbine, a Cable Cutter Blade, the Bat Ray Projector, a Batscope, Bat Eye Switch, Antenna Activator, Police Band Cut-In Switch, Automatic Tire Inflation Device, the Remote Batcomputer, the Batphone, Emergency Bat Turn Lever, Anti-Fire Activator, Bat Smoke, Bat Photoscope, and two rear-mounted ten-foot Deist parachutes.

Updated for the relaunch, Burton’s Batmobile built around the original concept but recieved a does of his characteristic grit and Gothic nature. As such, the new Batmobile’s aesthetics and gadgets were updated for the modern era and included a sleeker design, a more comprehensive turbine system, a sliding canopy, and of course retractable body armor! It also retained the idea of a 180 degree “Bat turn”, which this time around was made possible from lateral harpoons, and two .30 cal machineguns.

As the second movie demonstrated, the vehicle was also capable of shedding much of its body and collapsing into a narrow version of itself in case it needed to fit through tight spots. By the third movie, the design concept had changed considerably to feature bright sections beneath its segmented chassis. Over the top and impractical, this design was in keeping with Schumacher’s vision of a Batman where everything glittered and was campy, like the original series.

And last, the Nolan version. Here, the Batmobile was apparently inspired by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, where it was depicted as a tank rather than a car, and the Spinners of the Blade Runner movie. In the first film, it is indicated that the design came from a military vehicle known as “The Tumbler”, which Bruce Wayne then modified for his personal use.

It’s features included a propane fueled jet engine, front-firing rockets, autocannons, caltrops, rear airbrakes, and a stealth mode. In the Dark Knight, it was also shown that in emergency situations, the front wheels can deploy to form the Batpod. Rumors also abound that the new version featured in The Dark Knight Rises will be capable of flight as well. Oooooh, five more days!

Delorean:
This time-traveling vehicle has placed this short-lived 80’s experiment permanently on people’s radar. Were it not for Back to the Future and it’s unapologetically 80’s feel, the Delorean would probably have faded into obscurity a long time ago. Much like the Futura, it was a short-lived concept that caught on because of its appearance on screen.

But of course, were it not for its unusual design features, such as the gull-wing doors, stainless steel paneling and fiberglass underbody, it would never have made its cinematic appearances in the first place. The set designers were looking for something futuristic-looking to fashion a time-machine out of, and this is what they found!

It’s futuristic features are quite straightforward: A flux capacitor which allows for time travel, a plutonium engine that fuels it, a series of internal controls to set and monitor the time computations, and some rear facing exhaust fans to give it that ultra-futuristic look! Only three remain in existence once filming of the three movies was finished. Two are the property of Universal Studios and are display items, the third is owned by a private collector who assembled and restored the original model.

Ecto-1:
I shall not be making a “Who you gonna call?” reference here! Too obvious! Instead, let me just say that this car ought to be instantly familiar to anyone who grew up in the 80’s. If not, I’d be forced to wonder if you spent the entire decade in a cave or a cell somewhere, in which case, my sincere condolences!

Moving on, the Ecto-1 was the primary means of transport for the Ghostbusters. The car was built around the chassis of a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor, which had been converted to act as an ambulance car. This is apparent from the realoader trunk and the car’s siren, which was retained by the Ghostbusters so they could make sure people stayed out of their way, and also to announce their arrival!

Additional features including a a special pull-out rack in the rear containing the staff’s proton packs, which facilitates a quick retrieval without the complication of having to reach into the vehicle’s rear. There are also various gadgets mounted on the top, whose function is never revealed in the movies. However, in the course of the cartoon adaptation, it is said that the vehicle carries a “proton cannon” on its roof, and has a vertical jump system built into the bottom. These allow the Ghostbusters to take on ghost with some heavy artillery, as well as clearing fences and other obstacles that lie between them and their deployment.

KITT:
Also known as Knight Industries Two Thousand, this talking car was featured in the popular 80’s show Knight Rider. In addition to being the “vehicle” (ha!) that launched Hasselhoff’s career, this car is one of the earliest instances where an AI was merged with a high-performance car.

Built around the chassis of a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am, the car was souped up with a number of features to give it that AI look and feel. These included the red-laser scanner bar at the front – which like the Cylons’, allowed KITT to “see” – a turbo boost that allowed him to make big jumps, an “alpha circuit” which allows KITT to drive himself, a Tri-Helical Plasteel 1000 MBS (molecular bonded shell) plating, a flame thrower, tear gas launcher, and even a laser.

Inspiring several TV movies and a 2008 relaunch, the vehicle has gone through several redesigns and upgrades. In the updated series, the Trans Am chassis was traded in for a Mustang GT500KR and the molecular armor was traded in for nanotech polymer skin which is not only impregnable, but also capable of regeneration. Much of the other features, including the AI, scanners and defensive systems remained very much the same. However, the show only lasted single season, a possible indication that not all things 80’s are an instant success anymore.

Pursuit Special:
With all this talk about Mad Max, it was only a matter of time before this one crept into the list! Making multiple appearances in the franchise, the first car to hold this name was a modified Holden Monaro that was stolen and used by the “Night Rider” (not to be confused with Haffelhoff’s character). However, the more famous model was a modified 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT.

It was this car that Mad Max was offered as an incentive to stay with the force as their top pursuit man. Thought he initially refused it, he later used this same vehicle as his personal revenge weapon when evil men murdered his wife and child and had to be dealt with!

In terms of features, the main modifications on this car were the front nosecone, the eight individual exhaust side pipes, and a supercharger protruding through the bonnet. All of these alluded to the fact that the Pursuit Special was the fastest car in the force, capable of chasing down any road warriors that happened to be barreling down the highway.

In the sequel, the car was modified even further thanks to the success of the first film and a correspondingly larger budget. The new features included large petrol tanks fitted in the back to show that just how important a steady supply of petrol was to this car, not to mention within the context of the post-apocalyptic setting of Mad Max. The front end was also modified by removing the bottom section, which was in keeping with the design concept of making the car look more used and stressed.

Spinner:
So… it’s the 21st century, and yet there aren’t any flying cars. Screw hybrids and electrics, I was promised FLYING CARS! Well, according to the movie Blade Runner, we still have seven years before they are supposed to be a regular feature, at least as far as police cars go. And that’s the concept of a Spinner, in a nutshell –  a flying car used by the police of the future noire city of LA.

In addition to being able to drive as a ground car, the Spinner is also capable of vertical takeoff and landings and hovering at relatively high altitudes. Conceived by Syd Mead, the same man who designed concepts for Tron and Aliens, the vehicle was originally described as an “aerodyne” – a vehicle which directs air downward to create lift, though press kits for the film stated that the spinner was propelled by three engines: “conventional internal combustion, jet, and anti-gravity”.

I hope for their sake, they exaggerate! It’s going to be hard to come up with anti-gravity engines in just seven years time! In any case, the concept designs were built by Gene Winfield, the man who brought concepts to life for Batman, The Last Starfighter and Robocop as well as this. No indication was given as to what they used for a chassis, so I can only assume they built it up from spare parts and a classic was born!

So… seven years before these cars are supposed to be available, right? Ford, Toyota, GM, Hyundai, Subaru; all of you guys, get on it! Don’t make me come down there!

XXX GTO:
Last, but not least, we have the super-charge spy car on steroids from the movie XXX. As anyone who has seen this movie knows, Mr Vin Diesel, once undercover amongst a bunch of Russian mafia scumbags, decided he needed to have a classic muscle car. This he found in a 1967 Pontiac GTO hardtop. When circumstances demanded he start kicking some ass, he demanded that his spy buddies take all their precious gear and put it into the car.

Yes, that’s exactly how it happened. A table of guns, harpoons launchers, and assorted high tech gear lay in front of them. Behind the wheel, Diesel said “I want all of that… in here!” Within a few days, he got his wish. Featuring a folding seat which turns over to reveal a weapons rack, missiles mounted behind the lights, a flame thrower, and built-in machineguns.

And of course, all of this equipment had corresponding controls in the interior. These were to be found in a confusing array of millions of buttons and switches, along with an on-board GPS system built into the dashboard. Unfortunate that the car made only a brief appearance as part of the final chase scene.

Well that’s I got for this first installment in the series. I imagine people might have suggestions so please send them my way. Between ships, robots, guns, and now cars, I think we can just pay homage to just about every cool thing that’s ever come out of the realm of sci-fi and pop culture!