The Future is Here: The Flying Car!

spinner-blade-runner1Its finally here, after decades of promises and failures to deliver. And yes, this vehicle is probably not quite what you’re were envisioning when you heard the words “flying car”. But the Terrafugia Transition still fits the bill. Making its first appearance at the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin over the summer, the Terrafugia team conducted a demonstration that showcased what the vehicle can do.

This included two 20 minute test flights as well a demonstration of how the Transition’s wings can be folded up, which allows the Transition to roll around in one configuration and fly in another. Classed as a light sports plane by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), this ability also makes the Transition a road-legal vehicle.

terrafugia-public-1Technically, it isn’t a flying car so much as a roadable airplane capable of carrying a pilot/driver and one passenger. But that’s what makes the concept so workable. With a plane that is capable of making its way through that “last mile” between a small airport and their destination, it eliminates the need for haulers and motor scooters to move planes into their hangar bays.

The plane is the result of seven years of development, and began flight testing just last year. Some modifications have been since to improve handling. And with some additional development, the Terrafugia could become the prototype for a Spinner-type flying vehicle and the mainstay of urban transport in the not-too-distant future.

terrafugia-publicIn a public statement, the company behind the vehicle said:

Terrafugia made a dream come true at this year’s EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. The Transition performed its first public demonstrations for the aviation community during the show. Flown and driven by Phil Meteer, our Chief Test Pilot and Flight Test Coordinator, the Transition showed the crowd what it’s capable of on Monday (July 29) afternoon and Wednesday (July 31) evening. The 20-minute demonstrations included flight maneuvers over show center, converting from airplane to car, and driving along the flight line.

And of course, there’s a video of the flight demonstration. Check it out:


Source:
gizmag.com

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!

Blade Runner!

Third on the queue, the sci-fi and cult classic Blade Runner! Thank God too, since my first two reviews were both about movies I really didn’t like. While it’s fun to bash bad movies, it can leave a bad taste in your mouth. Good movies are like Listerine that way, they cleanse the critical palette, renew your faith in the visual medium. And as promised when I first decided to do reviews, movies based on books would receive special mention, especially movies that differed greatly from the books that inspired them. Truth be told, I had Blade Runner in mind when I made that statement, and a number of other Philip K Dick stories that went on to become films. In fact, the movies Minority Report, Paycheck, Impostor, The Adjustment Bureau, and Screamers were all movies based on Dick’s stories (which I plan to review soon enough!). And in every case, the films were quite different from the original works. You might even say it’s the Philip K Dick curse: to see your novels and short stories inspire film adaptations, but only after you’ve died and always with big changes! And without a doubt, Blade Runner was the most extreme case of this curse at work. In terms of plot, story, and especially tone and setting, the movie was vastly different from the novel. I’d say shame on the people who made this movie, but the truth is, it kind of worked in their favor…

(Background—>)
A few years back, I finally got around to reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which was the original title of the novel that would be the basis for the Blade Runner movie. Having already seen the movie, I found the novel quite surprising, and at times, downright odd. But it’s message and style eventually won me over, as did the comical and satirical aspects that Dick made use of. Whereas the movie was set in a Los Angeles of the future – a noire, dystopian crowded cityscape marked by flying cars and massive video advertisements on the sides of skyscrapers – the novel takes place in a relatively depopulated post-apocalyptic LA where the only people who remain are those who are either too poor or don’t have the requisite IQ levels to get a pass off-world. These colonies get a passing mention in the movie in the form of ads being broadcast from flying zeppelins, but the focus is overwhelmingly on life in the city. Another major difference is the lack of satirical consumer goods that were in the original novel: emotional dialers that people use to set their moods and empathy boxes that are basically TV’s that provide an interactive emotional experience. Both were touches of genius, hilarious but also very interesting in how they help to advance the story.

But by far, the greatest difference between the novel and the movie was in terms of theme. Whereas the novel was very much concerned with the fine line between artifice and authenticity (the robots representing the former), the movie depicted the Replicants (the AI’s) as tragic figures who are given the gift of life, only to have it taken away in the form of slavery, four-year lifespans, and “retirement” (i.e. execution) if they break the rules. So really, the book was a touch more simple in how it perceived machines: as cold and heartless, characterized by false animals, false humans, and nuclear arms. The movie depicted this in more complicated terms, blurring the lines between artificial and authentic, human and machine. Whereas in the book we don’t much care about the Replicants, in the movie, they are about the only characters we sympathize with.

(Content—>)
The movie opens on the city of Los Angeles in the future, circa 2019, where a Blade Runner detective has gone to the Tyrell Corp (the maker of Replicants for off-world use) to issue a Voight-Kampff test to one of the employees. This test, we soon learn, measures emotional responses and is the only way to tell the difference between a Replicant and a human. This is because the latest models (known as Nexus 6’s) have surpassed humans in all aspects, but still have a hard time mimicking human emotions. The Tyrell Corporations motto is “more human than human” for a reason, you see. And for reasons of legality that are mentioned in the movie’s preamble, no Replicants are allowed on Earth, so anyone suspected of being one is required to take the test and then “retired” if they fail. Upon realizing why he’s being tested, the employee shoots the Blade Runner and escapes. Guess he failed!

We then move to the character of Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford), who is enjoying a bowl of noodles at a street vendor when a bunch of LA police men approach him and demand he come with them. In this scene, we are given a ground level view of the noire city, as well as a taste of cityspeak. This lingo is the language of the street in the Blade Runner universe, a mishmash of various tongues which is illustrated beautifully by the character of Gaff (played by Edward James Olmos). Deckard goes with them and is told by his old chief that he’s needed again, and despite his reluctance, he takes the job. As his boss says, “you’re not cop, you’re little people!”, meaning he really has no choice in the matter. What follows is an admittedly expository scene, but a totally justified one, where we learn who the “bad guys” are as well as some other pertinent facts. For example, we learn that in addition to their difficulty approximating human emotions, Nexus 6’s also have a four year lifespan that ensures that they will never be able to overcome this flaw. Too much time, too many memories, and they might become totally indistinguishable from the rest of us. Spine tingly!

Afterward, Deckard goes to the Tyrell corp to meet the CEO and learn what he can from them. Sidenote: I could be wrong but I think the set designers got an award for the design of this one building. Part sky scraper, part Ziggurat, totally awesome! Here, we meet not only Tyrell himself, but a Replicant named Rachael (played by Sean Young). She represents a new breed of machine specially created by Tyrell to test out a new idea: giving Replicants memories so they’ll have an easier time dealing with emotions. After running the Voight-Kampff test on her, Deckard is both intrigued and frightened by her, a feeling that haunts him for the rest of the movie, and that I believe is meant to represent the love-hate relationship humanity has with technology. What is also interesting is that she doesn’t yet know that she’s a machine, but once the test is done, she overhears Deckard talking to Tyrell and is shattered by the news.

The movie then splits between the Replicant party, led by a unit named Batty (Rutger Hauer) who is trying to find the men most directly responsible for their creation, and Deckard who is trying to find the Replicants and determine why they came to Earth in the first place. In between, there are the scenes that catalog the budding romance between Deckard and Rachael, who herself seems to be torn between her attraction to Deckard on the one hand, and disgust over what he does. This part of the story, more than anything, helps to illustrate the blurred line that exists between artificial and real. While a relationship between the two of them would certainly be considered taboo, neither of them can resist the allure of the other. Over time, Rachael appears to make peace with the fact that she is a machine, and Deckard seems to get over it as well (wink wink!)

Ultimately, Batty and what is left of his companions (because Deckard keeps killing them), make their way to Tyrell himself. Their whole purpose, we learn, was to find a way to extend their lives. What follows is, in my opinion, one of the best scenes in cinematic history. In the course of a very civilized conversation, Batty is told that there is no way to extend his life, and never was. His hopes, and everything they did in order to get to Earth and find Tyrell, were therefore in vain. Tyrell tries to comfort him by telling him that “the candle that burns half as long burns twice as bright.” He further tells him to let go of whatever guilt he harbors for all the things he did to get to Earth and see him, that he should “revel in his time”. But, overcome by anger and grief, Batty kills Tyrell and escapes from the building. One of the things that makes this scene so good is the fact that you genuinely get the feeling that a sort of father-son dynamic (or that of a man meeting his God) is taking place between them. In addition, you can feel the pain being exuded by Hauer as he kills Tyrell. Obviously it pains him to murder his “father”, but he’s got nothing to lose and just needs someone to blame for the fact that he’s going to die and is helpless to do anything about it.

Shortly thereafter, a confrontation ensues between Deckard and Batty at the Replicant’s hideout. And in spite of the fact that Deckard has now killed all his companions and he is poised to deliver the death blow, Batty chooses instead to save his life. His final scene, as he sits half-naked in the rain holding a dove, are yet another example of cinematic genius. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…” he says, the rain dripping from his face. “Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die.” So sad, even Harris Ford shed tears, and he’s fricking Han Solo and Indiana Jones! The police then show up, Gaff let’s him know that his girlfriend’s secret is out, but that he left her alone. As he says, “It’s a shame she won’t live. But then again, who does?” Whether or not he’s referring to the fact that she will eventually be hunted down, or to her four year lifespan, is still a bit of a mystery to me. But in either case, by the end, Deckard is finished with being a Blade Runner and runs off with Rachael, finding a measure of redemption through his relationship with her.

(Synopsis—>)
Blade Runner was panned by some critics who didn’t like the pacing of it, and my own wife remarked the first time she saw it that she felt a little let down. But of course she, and I imagine many of those critics, were expected an action movie and not the cinematic tour de force that it was. With a name like Blade Runner, you kinda sorta think it’s going to be an action flick. But upon seeing it for a second time, her feelings changed and she saw the depth it undeniably has. And despite doing poorly at the box office, time has been very good to this movie, elevating it to the status of a cult classic and an example of cinematic gold. In fact, over the years it has appeared on numerous top 100 lists, not only as one of the best sci-fi movies of all time, but also one of the best movies period. Who am to argue? And hell, why would I even want to? I love this movie!

Blade Runner:
Entertainment value: 7/10 (admittedly, bit slow in places)
Plot: 8/10
Direction: 10/10 baby!
Overall: 8.5/10