Category ►►► Future of Transportation
September 24, 2010
The Green Hornet's Car
I saw this car, the Morgan Aero 8, on Top Gear, the BBC car program (and the only car program I would ever watch)... and I fell completely in love with it. Alas, it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, I believe.
But what immediately occurred to me was... what a smashing car this would be for the Green Hornet, if someone made a contemporary movie, à la the newest Batman movie series. Here, take a look, a green version:
Green Hornet hardtop (green)
It's fast, too; top speed is about 170, and it'll do 0 - 60 in about 4 seconds. It corners very, very well as well.
This one's a convertible, still green:
Green Hornet convertible (still green)
For the purists, who insist that Britt Reid drive the Black Beauty:
Green Hornet's "Black Beauty"
Another view of a black Morgan Aero 8:
Black Beauty -- cross-eyed and painful
Finally, there's the coupe version, the Aeromax, which is just brilliant:
That's the model I want -- but I want it in flat matte black, not grey; maybe some pinstriping in gloss black, only visible as reflection when the light hits it just right.
I'm an absolute sucker for retro 30s or 40s design; I believe that era was the apex of automobile artistry. Later cars looked like stealth aircraft or shrunken garbage trucks; and now there's a whole industry designed around cars that look like toasters, and "green" cars (enviro-mentalism) that look like roller skates -- and about the same size, too. You don't drive modern ultra-compacts so much as wear them.
For me, the Morgan Aero and Aeromax are definitely what the hosts at Top Gear call "money no object" cars: If money were no object, I would buy a Morgan Aeromax, no matter how many people I had to slay to get one.
August 1, 2008
Democrats to Drivers (Bus Riders, Truckers, etc): Drop Dead
A most extraordinary exchange occurred yesterday in the august halls (thought it was still July) of the United States Senate. (Hat tip to Hugh Hewitt, who played this on his show today.)
It shows the Democrat in his natural environment: Complete disdain for working Americans, and utter indifference to their problems... but slavishly doting upon the various interlocking special interests that prop up the Democratic Party, like creeping vines holding a crumbling facade in precarious balance.
Just take a look-see:
Sen. Ken Salazar's (D-CO, 85%) message is stark: There is no gasoline price level, no matter how dear, beyond which Democrats will actually support drilling for more domestic oil. None. It could go to $100 a gallon, and they would still fold their arms and, like Khrushchev at the U.N., bark "Nyet!
Current projections from the "pundants" (as President George W. Bush calls them) are that Republicans will be slaughtered in November. Democrats are still talking about a "filibuster-proof majority" in the Senate, or even "veto-proof" majorities in one or both houses.
I say that's nonsense: If we can focus like a laser beam on issues like energy, taxes, the economy, jobs, winning the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, reforming immigration (including legal immigration), and confirming judges who won't rewrite the Constitution to fit the current fashion trend... then I say we can reduce the loses to negligible -- and maybe even nab a net seat in the Senate, if we can hold our own and pick off Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA, 80%). So far, the GOP is running a terrific campaign for the congressional races, and John S. McCain is running a pretty good campaign for president (still room for improvement there).
It's time, time for conservatives to come back and put country ahead of their own power within the party; it's time to come together, fight to take back Congress and retain la Casa Blanca -- then all Republicans must make reparations for their complete meltdown from 2004-2006, when they became as corrupt as the Democrats.
A good start would be for the GOP, either overtly or covertly, to support some other candidate other than incrumbent Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK, 64% -- poster-boy for the corruption of the flesh of swine) in the Alaska primary later this month.
September 11, 2007
Give a Yell for Aerogel!
Aerogel is one of the weirdest man-made substances on the planet. First, it's the lightest stuff in the world -- literally: An evacuated form of aerogel is a solid, but is actually less dense than air (meaning it would "float" on air).
But it's also an amazing insulator against both cold and heat; it's an excellent dessicant, or drying agent; it can mimic a biological cell, absorb oil, lead, and mercury pollutants... and aerogel armor can even protect against impact from bullet or bomb... or maybe even a car crash.
Scientists produce aerogel by taking a silica gel that is mostly water and slowly replacing all the water with air; the process is called "supercritical drying." The result has been dubbed "frozen smoke" (not to be confused with liquid smoke, which lazy cooks squirt on food to simulate barbecue flavor). Aerogel is mostly harmless, though you should wear gloves to handle it, as it can dry and crack your skin by absorbing all the water from it.
But for me, the most interesting potential use for aerogel is in military armor, both for individual soldiers and for vehicles. For some odd chemical reason, it's extraordinarily resistant to impact. From the Fox News piece above:
Aerogel is also being tested for future bombproof housing and armor for military vehicles. In the laboratory, a metal plate coated in 6 mm (a quarter of an inch) of aerogel was left almost unscathed by a direct dynamite blast.
The quarter-inch of aerogel would mass only a fraction of what a similar volume of current armor masses, allowing equivalent (or even superior) protection with a fraction the weight. Already, soldiers and Marines complain about the sheer weight of the body armor they must wear; it's not uncommon for our fighting men not to wear the "best" armor because it renders them virtually immobile. Anything that decreases the weight will increase the number of soldiers who consent to wear it.
For a graphic demonstration of the difference, let's look at two very short videos (less than ten seconds each). In the first, a high-speed test projectile strikes impact-resistant acrylic glass (PMMA -- Polymethyl methacrylate):
Notice that the glass simply shatters under this impact. But now, let's see a much thinner pane of aerogel under an identical impact:
In this video, the aerogel stretches but does not break, and the projectile does not penetrate.
The same principle applies to vehicles, of course: Combining the light-weight, high-impact-resistant aerogel with the V-shaped bottom of an MRAP vehicle could make devastating IEDs a fading memory.
But another use not generally mentioned is to create a thermal-insulating blanket that can wrap around hot parts of a helicopter or tank -- thus obscuring the target from infrared sensors mounted on missiles:
In particular, their aerogel blanket can be used to radically cut infrared emissions from helicopters, making it much harder for heat-seeking missiles to lock on to them. As reported by Aircraft Survivability magazine [page 38 in the pdf]:...This program focused on the use and optimization of aerogels as a high performance insulation material, encapsulated in innovative, lightweight packaging. The aerogel blanket insulation system, with a weight of only 5 pounds, demonstrated a 40 percent reduction in aircraft IR signature during flight demonstrations on an Army OH–58D Kiowa.
This is spectacular stuff, all part of a revolution in chemical engineering dating back at least to the 1930s (when aerogel and Bakelite were invented). As I have argued many times, while it's true that our enemies -- al-Qaeda, Iran, the Communists -- adapt to our techniques, we adapt so much more rapidly to theirs, and invent new strategies and tactics out of whole cloth so effortlessly, that I have no fear that we will be overwhelmed by a technology duel... bring it on!
Nobody converts basic science into real-world engineering better than the United States of America; we are a nation of hip nerds.
July 18, 2007
Back in August 1989, New Destines VIII published an article of mine titled "Those Greyout Blues." I discussed a program then being pursued by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency... sort of a Department of Defense "skunk works" funding source. The program was called the Pilot's Associate; and the idea was to develop a plane that could take off, fly, engage in combat ops, drop bombs and shoot missiles, then return and land -- all on its own initiative, without a pilot.
I don't know what became of that program; clearly, we don't have any such aircraft. But we have the next best thing: the grim Reaper, which can do all of the above while being piloted remotely from halfway around the world:
The airplane is the size of a jet fighter, powered by a turboprop engine, able to fly at 300 mph and reach 50,000 feet. It's outfitted with infrared, laser and radar targeting, and with a ton and a half of guided bombs and missiles.
The Reaper is loaded, but there's no one on board. Its pilot, as it bombs targets in Iraq, will sit at a video console 7,000 miles away in Nevada.
The arrival of these outsized U.S. "hunter-killer" drones, in aviation history's first robot attack squadron, will be a watershed moment even in an Iraq that has seen too many innovative ways to hunt and kill.
Of course, the Predator -- our current drone -- already does this, though it carries a much smaller payload than does the Reaper. So what's all the excitement about? The excitement is that the Reaper program indicates that the Air Force finally "gets it": While the Predator seemed a one-shot, a fluke, the Reaper indicates a serious, long-term, future commitment to remotely piloted drones (RPDs)... which will change the very character of future warfare.
First, let's define the problem...
We have long been able to design and build military aircraft that can take far more punishment than the pilot inside. For a simple example, we already push the limits of the human skeleton and internal-organ integrity with modern fighters, which can execute 9-G turns. During such a maneuver, a pilot who normally weighs 170 lbs instead weighs over 1,500 lbs; he can barely breathe, and his heart simply cannot pump blood that has suddenly grown as heavy as lead "up" to the brain, through arteries that are simultaneously being crushed into significantly smaller diameters.
Anti-G suits help, as does a particular maneuver described as trying to overcome constipation by main force. As the subjective centrifugal force builds, the anti-G suit inflates around the thighs and abdomenal areas, squeezing them hard and forcing the blood brainwards, where it is most urgently needed... because once the blood "falls" from the brain back into the body, the pilot loses consciousness -- which most aviation experts consider a suboptimal condition in which to drive an airplane.
Modern fighter pilots have developed a technique for aerial combat maneuvers: They pull turns so tightly that they lose just enough blood to lose color vision and for vision to "tunnel down" to a small-radius circle, inside which they can still see the instrument panel; this condition is called "greyout." The pilot holds the Gs at that point; if he pulls harder, there is a good chance he will go from greyout to blackout... and that's probably lights out, as the plane can go ballistic and tumble before the pilot recovers consciousness.
But suppose pilots were able to take a sustained G-force of 20 Gs, 50 Gs, without having to experience greyout, let alone unconsciousness -- without any impairment of their flying ability at all. Imagine how maneuverable such aircraft would be -- and what an advantage over enemy pilots stuck in clunky Su-37s!
Well, that's exactly what the Reaper promises... by taking the pilot out of the aircraft entirely and letting him (or her) fly the plane from a few miles or thousands of miles away. (I believe that female pilots would be allowed to fly a Reaper in combat, as they would not themselves actually be in the combat zone.) Suppose the connection between pilot and RPD could not be jammed or interfered with, or at least that it was extremely hard to do. And suppose that, if something went wrong and the plane did lose contact with the remote pilot, it had enough AI capability either to finish the mission -- or at least turn around, come back to home base, and land itself.
Make no mistake: Planes like the Reaper, and perhaps future versions that don't even need to be remotely piloted, are the future of military aviation; and this innovation will swiftly spread to warships at sea and armor on the ground.
That last possibility has been discussed in military circles (and even among wargamers!) for decades. So-called "Ogre" tanks that are completely solid, containing no humans and having either a very small profile (hard to hit) -- or alternatively, being as much as a kilometer in size and armed with numerous tiny "Ogrelets" it can deploy as it rolls ponderously along... unstoppable by anything short of a strategic nuclear missile.
Small-sized Ogres could drive into a river, roll up unseen and underwater, only to suddenly emerge already firing on the enemy. But an RPD could also be so tiny it's overlooked... a miniscule RPD shaped like an insect that can crawl and fly, all controlled by a human operator somewhere else. The next "fly on the wall" AQI leader Ayyub Masri sees could contain a camera and microphone and be broadcasting his most secret plans directly to Gen. Petraeus.
(Imagine the paranoia that would produce, were we to let the existence of such RPDs leak to the New York Times... even if we didn't really have them! I envision Masri interrupting a vital AQI strategy session to run around like a madman, trying to squash a real fly with his sandal because he's afraid it's really a spycam. I wonder how long he would last in his leadership position if he declared "jihad" on flying insects?)
RPDs can also be bird-sized, flying overhead as "forward observers," directing equally smart artillery shells, missiles, and bombs onto the enemy's head. At the extreme, RPDs could be turned into "smart bullets," flying around corners and through conduits to kill the enemy. (Again science fiction was there first -- for example, the 1984 Tom Selleck movie Runaway.)
The Reaper's first combat deployment is expected in Afghanistan, and senior Air Force officers estimate it will land in Iraq sometime between this fall and next spring. They look forward to it.
"With more Reapers, I could send manned airplanes home," [Lt. Gen. Gary] North said.
The core idea is this: Human beings cannot take too much acceleration; they cannot be folded into a tiny space; they require air instead of water to breathe; and they can be killed by poison gas, by radiation, by impact, and by intense heat. But we can design machines that are not subject to those same limitations... so long as they don't need to waste precious resources protecting human cargo.
We can already make war machines tremendously more effective than our current stockpile; the only thing holding us back is the need to accomodate the (relatively) fragile human body. So if we remove that soft body, then we have no restrictions other than the physical limits of materials science, remote telemetry, and artificial intelligence. Imagine the scene in one of the Terminator movies where we see the actual battle in the future... then subtract the trite yawner of a science-fiction theme that the machines will seize control and attack us.
The future is nigh, moreso than ever before; and if we believe Alvin Toffler, it will be even more "nigh" next year, changing ever faster, accelerating along an exponential curve, until we all begin to experience "future shock."
But for now, I will bet money that those who live perpetually in the 7th century will be considerably more subject to future shock than those who have at least kept up for the last fourteen hundred years.
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