Sunday, December 21, 2003
Profiles of the Future: Hovercraft
Chapter 4 of Profiles of the future is dedicated entirely to Ground Effect Machines (GEMs), or hovercraft as they are currently known. Mr. Clarke envisions a time in the near future where humans are no longer subject to the "tyrrany" of the wheel. "But there will be a very difficult transition period before the characteristic road sign of the 1990's becomes universal: NO WHEELED VEHICLES ON THIS HIGHWAY."
Issues with such a transition abound, not the least of which is the saftey of using hovercraft as a primary personal transportation device, especially in urban areas. Hovercraft have never been well known for their ability to stop or turn suddenly; a definite advantage of vehicles in direct contact with the ground.
As an aside, he mentions the dwindling supply of petroleum, which has been long forecasted, but is still yet to be upon us 40 years subsequent. No doubt it is out there somewhere, but with current exploration, I expect we're still 20 years away from any kind of drought, if not longer.
No doubt the hovercraft will find it's place in history (outside of the military), and it just may be in the exploration of the poles as Mr. Clarke suggests, but I believe that we can safely say that any mass adoption of GEM as a primary mode of transportation is still quite some time away, if it ever occurs, and if it DOES occur, it will probably be in a way we currently don't yet.
As for using GEMs for trans-oceanic cargo, I wonder what the limitations have been thus far. Is it dead, or just waiting for the right moment to arrive?
Is there something to be learned here to further place limits on how we see the future? I think there is, but I'm not quite sure what. Surely land rights, noise issues, and the sheer unevenness of land in most places occurred to Mr. Clarke, and yet his vision leaps beyond them. Is this an error on his part, or one on mine? Surely he attempts to look beyond the obstacles (in fact he says as much early in the book) to what lies beyond them, but how do we accurately pick which obstacles are temporary, and those that will halt the progression of a technology or kill it altogether?
Are we still on the cusp of the hovercraft era?