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Normally this blog covers issues about open-source software and the industry around it. However, sometimes I have to share some really cool things that are only tangentially (if that) related to computing at all. For today, the cool thing theme is Flying Cars.

It is 2010, and many of us assumed we would be living in space pods, eating astronaut ice cream regularly, and getting to work in our Jetsons-style flying cars. A few of these things have happened—people DO live in the international space station pretty much full-time, and you can buy astronaut ice cream over the Internet. Flying cars, however, have eluded us.

Until now.

This year, two companies intend to take the flying car concept public, or at least make serious waves

Terrafugia Transition

The Terrafugia Transition is a “roadable aircraft” in the pre-production (FAA certification, possibly?) phase with first customer shipments expected in 2011. They don’t actually specify on their website, but with a useful load of 430 lbs and a 100hp engine, the Transition must be a 2-seat aircraft. Note that their prototype is flying (see photos & videos) and they are taking $10,000 deposits—the expected final price is in the $200,000 range.

Samson Switchblade

Samson Motorworks has taken a slightly different tack with the Switchblade. This 2-seater, 3-wheeled vehicle is actually classed as a motorcycle on the road, and the wings fold into the body rather than folding up next to it. The ducted fan is also a very slick. No flying prototype yet, but I have high hopes for Oshkosh. (And I wish I had high hopes for attending Oshkosh, sigh.)

Volante Aircraft, a sharp-looking kit with a flying prototype. The canard design reminds me very much of the Rutan Long-Eze, which was my absolute dream aircraft for many years. (ok, it still is)

UrbanAero X-Hawk, an interesting dual ducted fan design that seriously looks like something out of a science fiction story. The two large circles house rotor blades, sort of like enclosed helicopter rotors. I can hardly look at it without picturing Bruce Willis hanging off the side of it.

Parajet Automotive Skycar, the folks who drove and flew a dune buggy from London to Timbuktu! This one is radical and represents some serious out-of-the-box thinking, and also has the option of being very inexpensive.

LaBiche Aerospace FSC-1 – with 5 seats, this is the largest and most “family-friendly” design, although it also looks to me to be the most complex. In car mode, it also looks the most like an actual car, and a nice-looking one at that. They are still building the prototype. Expected cost is around $175k, putting it near the Terrafugia in price but with more payload.

Aerocar 2000, inspired by Moulton Taylor‘s original Aerocar design. With this one, the actual flight mechanism – pusher prop, wings, and empennage – are mounted on a normal car, in this case a Lotus Esprit (why not?). You must then leave the wings etc. at the airport, but that probably suits most circumstances well.

And no compendium would be complete without mentioning Paul Moller’s Skycar, though I won’t link to it—see Wikipedia for more information. In my opinion, Moller has made great strides in capturing imaginations and in separating investment dollars from their prior owners, but with no viable product in 40 years of development and a host of lawsuits, I fail to see how the Skycar will ever see the showroom. I invite him to prove me wrong.

As a full-time telecommuter AND a holder of a pilot’s certificate, I look forward to these developments with great anticipation. When I was flying regularly, I could get to work for meetings in 5 hrs by driving, or in 1 hr in the air, though there was always the problem of transportation on the other end. I see these vehicles as the start of a new industry that can enable people to live out-far, as I do, and only show up at work physically when absolutely necessary. That is excellent news for the planet.

Keep in mind, of course, that even if it is called a “car” you will still need a pilot’s certificate in order to actually operate these vehicles in the air. For the Switchblade at least, you will also need a motorcycle authorization on your driver’s license in most US states and Canada. And for any of them you will need a lot of training, practice, and the thing that actually keeps airplanes up in the air: money.

However, the chances that you will have the coolest car in the parking lot at work are 100%.


This week marks the 20th anniversary of Don Eigler’s startling success at being able to move individual atoms around at will. The IBM scientist eventually spelled out the letters I-B-M with 35 Xenon atoms. The process took 22 hours and presumably about a gallon of coffee.

So I proclaim this to be a Happy Very Tiny Things Day. Thanks, Don. You are one of the giants whose shoulders we stand on today, and will even more in the future.


Wired posted an article this morning covering 100 essential skills for geeks. Normally I really like Wired’s GeekDad posts—anther one posted this morning on Nikolai Tesla is great—but I have a bone to pick with the post on geek cred.

As a geek dad myself, I certainly agree that there are some skills I should have in order to maintain the title. But there are some on this list that I simply can’t get behind. “Leeching wi-fi from the neighbor” and “Cracking WEP on someone’s router” are not only morally wrong, they are silly—much better to knock on their door and ask to borrow the tubes, and offer to give them something in return. Or get thyself to a coffeehouse and contribute to the local economy. Being a geek is not the same thing as taking things that don’t belong to you. Not a good thing to teach the geeklets.

“Use any piece of technology intuitively, without instruction or prior knowledge.” That’s a rather vague requirement. Nuclear power stations count as technology. Much better to RTFM, I think. In fact, I’d say that the ability and willingness to read a manual before jumping into an unknown system is paramount to geek cred.

Also, re #76, if you make coffee in under a minute, yr doin it rong. Srsly. Note to self: write post in near future about how to brew good coffee.

However, I sincerely agree with #99: “Talk about things that aren’t tech related.”

#100, however, is obvious—write an article like that one and get it published on Wired. :)

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