Wednesday, October 7, 2009

If I Can’t Have a Jet pack

How about a lightcycle?

My viewing of Surrogates last weekend definitely got me thinking. Part of what I was thinking was, “I wish this movie was as great as I’d hoped.” But it also got me thinking about the impact of a “virtual” lifestyle as well as some other technologies. Early on in the movie we see a limo driving along, and one of the other vehicles on the road appears to be a two-wheeled, streamlined, enclosed motorcycle. It looked a little like a mechanical version of a lightcycle, but it was more transport-oriented than it was a device for game-grid combat. It’s the sort of thing that tends to appear in futuristic movies and it got me wondering – why don’t these exist?

Well, it turns out they sort of do, but not exactly the way I mean. These seem to be high-end luxury devices, but it seems to me that a) motorcycles are cheap and b) motorcycles get awesome gas mileage. What people don’t like about motorcycles are a) they’re not weather-friendly (both due to slippage and because you get all wet) and b) they take balance and coordination to ride. With the dramatic rise in the desire for eco-friendly driving alternative, plus the downturn in the economy, I propose that the time is right for a vehicle that combines low cost with excellent gas-mileage. Heck, assuming that a good alternative-fuel engine CAN be developed, it can probably be fitted to a motorcycle-like vehicle, too, for even more stellar fuel economy.

I’d foresee a scenario where people owned a regular car (or two) for carting the family around, for cruising, and for other travel where you want to have multiple people in the car together. But for the daily “I need to get to work” commute, they might opt for a low-cost, high-efficiency alternative like a two-wheeled or three-wheeled, enclosed motorcycle. It wouldn’t work for everybody, but I know that it would have worked just fine for me for most of my daily commutes over the last 20 years.

Obviously, one of the big issues with an enclosed motorcycle is that you can’t put your foot down when you come to a stop. It’s also going to be harder to see to the sides and behind you, which can be a problem when you’re one of the smaller vehicles on the road trying to steer clear of trouble. I’m not the right guy to engineer a fix for the latter problem (a combination of mirrors and cameras, perhaps?), but it could be that the gyroscopic guts of the relatively useless Segway Human Transporter might help to stabilize a motorcycle so it remained upright except when leaning into a turn.

So, you take a $5,000 motorcycle, upgrade it with an enclosure, a gyroscope, and some cameras, and let’s say that doubles the price to around $10,000. For what I’d save on fuel, that start’s to look really affordable for a lot of people either as primary or auxiliary transportation. Maybe there’s a solid reason we haven’t seen this – maybe there actually isn’t a market for it, or maybe my cost estimate is way low. But it’s also possible that nobody’s seriously looked at it except for the guys I linked above who are trying to sell them for a million bucks a pop. Hey folks, unless it’s leaving a wall of solid light behind it, nobody’s going to pay that much for it. Better to make them cheap and simple so people can get to work while they’re waiting for somebody to invent the jetpack.

No comments:

Post a Comment