Originally published on May 23, 2013 under the title "The next wave in Locomotion"
It takes a lot of energy to propel a car. I use the word propel as that is what the automobile has been designed to do. Now a lot of innovation has happened inside “the compartment” ever since the invention of the automobile itself. And by that I mean all the innovation that has occurred within or inside the automobile in the past couple of hundred years. However increasingly I find myself asking the following question and I do think about this problem quite often:
Why is it that the wheel still hits the road? (Literally and not figuratively).
It’s a very crude and inefficient mechanism. And if you’ve ever pushed a full sized Sedan or an SUV (not a smart car), which is quite probable, then you certainly know what I mean. If you have never had the chance to push a vehicle, then you have been leading a very sheltered life. Stop reading this blog post, go out and do something crazy.
Now I haven’t done tons of research to be able to present or even dabble into alternatives. But even after hundreds of years the basic premise of how automobiles have been designed and how they propel themselves remains the same. It’s insane! And it is so inefficient. There should be a serious and concerted effort to try and lift our vehicles off the ground. Right of the bat we are looking at:
If we can do this for Mag Lev trains, then I wonder what’s stopping us from doing this for smaller vehicles. A city wide network of tracks and tiny, nimbler version of the Mag-Lev type automobiles running off these tracks. You could buy these vehicles, rent them. Have an entire eco-system of the various offering. You don’t need wheels anymore, so let your imagination run wild. Units carrying a single person, 2 people and then a module you could attach to the vehicle in order to carry your entire family. Again all of this would be possible since you do not have wheels anymore. You could reduce or eliminate accidents, and we could finally get rid of the auto-insurance companies. I just heard you say Hallelujah. These things would be so energy efficient, that you could mass produce, use and discard them much more often and still not feel bad about the carbon footprint. You could have trains and subways going around cities in concentric circles and then the tinies (yeah lets call them tinies) would be running in grids all over the city. I’d say something close to what I have proposed would turn out to be inevitable as we will run out of fossil fuels.
However the Holy Grail in this particular arena would be a much better understanding of gravity itself. We all know what Gravity is, but even the best physicist of our time acknowledge that a couple of key answers remained unanswered specific to “how” gravity really works. Off course, if we knew the answers, then we would not be spending an enormous amount of time and effort propelling objects and ourselves by burning fossil fuels, completely oblivious to what that is really doing to the atmosphere. And that is why I say, that a much better understanding of Gravity is required and a serious and concerted effort by the species to help us towards better understanding this force that is so common and pervasive across the Universe. And by better understanding, I really mean going way beyond what Einstein hypothesized about an object with a heavy mass distorting space and time and thus causing gravity (Am I doing a terrible job of explaining what Gravity is?)
Inspiration: I got the idea of automobiles and other vehicles that can and should be lifted off the ground after watching Star Wars. The Land speeders to be precise. So thank you Mr Lucas and ILM for subliminally channeling my neurons in a certain way. Personally and in a Utopian situation, I wouldn’t be using a thrust mechanism in order to propel the vehicle or a landspeeder at that. Instead, the technology would somehow interact with gravity and use gravity itself to push and pull itself in a controlled fashion. That being said, I have been trying to figure out the Physics behind the landspeeder. I didn’t have much success there. So if you happen to be a Starwars fan and have an answer to that question, then please let me know.