1.21 Gigawatts?!

(The scientists/mathematicians among you can confirm or deny that it should actually be “one-point-two-one gigawatts“.)

Yesterday I posted a link to a news report that Nike have patented self-tying sneakers, much like those seen in Back to the Future 2. This prompted my friend Helen to ask where the hoverboards and flying cars were, as they were also pretty key to the film, and they’re way cooler than self-tying laces. This question is of great concern to me, as I come from an office where the main source of recreation used to be Back to the Future trivia questions. Everyone else was way better at it than me.

Anyway, first of all – hoverboards. I remember, back when BTTF2 first came out, schoolyard scuttlebutt claiming that hoverboards actually existed. They were available in America (at the time, everything was available in America, including Ghostbusters 3, which a schoolmate claimed to have a pirated copy of), or they had been banned from sale, or… You get the idea. After all, there was no need for filmmakers to use expensive special effects when they could have just used the real thing, right?

Sadly it all turned out to be an urban myth, just like the ghost in Three Men and a Baby. Big, bitter disappointment, and you’d think this would be an end to it, but no. Turns out you can build one yourself. Okay, it’s nothing like the boards seen in the film, but you can get off the ground and fly around a bit. And then crash and burn, but we won’t go there. In 2001, rumours circulated that a hoverboard was about to be released, but it turned out to be the Sedgeway, invented by Dean Kamen (whose father, Jack Kamen, was an artist for EC Comics, the publisher that was a key player in the events recounted in my post of a few days ago). Mythbusters produced an episode in which they attempted to make a hovering device, but it was more of a personal hovercraft than a hoverboard. Alas, the hoverboard remains an urban myth, but don’t worry, people are working on it as we speak….

The other piece of awesome technology seen in BTTF2 (or rather, at the end of the original Back to the Future, where it was envisaged as a throwaway gag on which to end the film) was the flying car. BTTF wasn’t the first example of this – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang springs to mind, and Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, being the gadget freak that he was, also had a flying car. But they’re fictitious, and therefore we’re not going to get to buy one any time soon. At least that’s what I thought. See, in the process of researching this post, I had my mind blown. Here’s what I discovered.

We’ve had flying cars since the 1930s.

No, I couldn’t believe it either. But it’s true. The first one (which admittedly looks more of a plane, but it was early days) is on display at the Smithsonian. The great grandaddy of motorcars and mass production, Henry Ford, was also interested in the concept, going so far to carry out a feasibility study, which reckoned that yes, you could develop a commercial flying car. You know what stopped it? Air traffic control. It’s pretty obvious really – you invent a flying car, you’re going to be cluttering up airspace pretty darn quickly. Back in the 50s, air traffic control was fairly primitive, and so the idea died a bit of a death.

Then, in July this year, news reports began to emerge that a company called Terrafugia had produced a design for a flying car that it hopes to get into production late in 2011. It’s not exactly what we saw in Back to the Future 2 (and it’s not getting DARPA over-excited), but it’s a step in the right direction. After all, the film wa set in 2015 – we’ve got five years left to go….

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One thought on “1.21 Gigawatts?!

  1. narwhal123

    Oh my freaking God.
    Flying cars.
    Oh my God.
    Having said that, wouldn’t it be much easier to make rolling airplanes? I mean, you can already drive them, they already have wheels. Wouldn’t it be much less complicated if we made smaller, more maneuverable airplanes designed for personal use? And besides that, I’m sure traffic would get even more frustrating once we’re in the air, too.

    Reply

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