The Future in the Rear View Mirror

Candice eetimesThe house controller slowly increased the transparency of her floor to ceiling bedroom windows to let the grey dawn naturally wake her.  Cora woke up feeling refreshed, as usual, as she began to smell the coffee already brewing in the kitchenette of her apartment.  “Time to get up,” she acknowledged to herself.  After showering, she grabbed her favorite adaptive outfit.  She mulled over the ePattern she would have the garment display that day.  She decided to wear a bright floral pattern for the morning… she would change to a more biz like pattern after she got to the City.  The adaptive pigments in the garment obliged as she dressed.  The design controller in the garment noted the use of the floral pattern and sent a notification via the Internet of Things to the bank, authorizing the micro-payment to the artist who developed the pattern.  Her husband, as usual, was still asleep, as he was a night-owl chronotype, and had no physical meetings that day to attend.  Besides, most of his video calls would have to wait until his colleagues seven hour time zones behind would rise as well.

As she sipped her coffee, she reviewed that day’s schedule virtually projected onto a blank area on her kitchenette table.  She nervously adjusted the electronic glasses from Dynamic Eye, she was wearing, settling the earpieces into her ears so that she could hear the computer better.  She looked over the weather forecast for her commute flight and acknowledged the flight plan that the computer suggested.

As she walked outside, she noticed that several children were walking down the middle of the street headed for school.  She ruefully recalled that in her youth, she would never have been allowed to walk to school, much less wander down the middle of the street.  Of course, the meaning of “street” had changed in that time.  Back then, cars, actually driven by people, had exclusive use of the streets.  Besides, most of the streets were blocked off to cars these days.  Many had had the pavement removed and turned into pedestrian malls.  In the older suburban neighborhoods, the ones with single family houses, the courts and cul de sacs were usually converted to parks and playgrounds.  Her grandparents had converted their old garage into a bonus room and had the driveway torn up to expand the front garden.  Her own grandchildren were grown now and off to various careers.  Of course, she kept close tabs on them through their social media posts, that much hadn’t changed in her lifetime.

As she got to the corner, the car that she had authorized pulled up.  It was right on time, as per usual, having been computer scheduled.. and rescheduled… as she made her way through her morning routine.  She usually chose to ride-share, as that reduced the cost of hiring a car for her trip to the heliport.  She glanced over to the corner of her DynEye display where her computer agent reported that her co-riders all had excellent reputations as she hopped into the car.  She reflected on how different cars were now than in the past.  Given that car accidents never occurred with driver-less control, the cars were ultra-light, lacked bumpers, side-mirrors, or even headlights.  They did have ultra-thin appliques, emissive displays, part of the paint, that lit up at night, indicating the car company and advertisements for other products.  She preferred BuzzCar, of course, but would accept ZipCar as a second choice.

The ride took her past new construction, yet another old-style shopping mall and parking lot being torn out to make way for new style apartment buildings interspersed with plazas and gardens.  Most of the new buildings were semi-arcologies that looked like Mayan temples, pyramids with lush hanging gardens at each level, and an interior garden atrium.  There were restaurants and unique shops on the lower levels.  Most of the apartments had only tiny kitchenettes / wet bars to store snacks and drinks, as it was cheaper and more convenient to eat at restaurants in the building.  It was also more socially interesting to meet up with friends and neighbors for meals.  And if you really did crave privacy, one could always order a meal to be delivered in just minutes directly to the kitchenette by autonomous robo-waiters through the service corridors hidden away in the building, the modern equivalent of the dumb-waiter from the Victorian era.

The car pulled to a gentle stop at the heliport nearby one of the bigger new apartment buildings.  Larger drones were taking off and landing nearly constantly, their multiple rotors generating a pleasant low hum.  Looking up, she could see thousands more drones higher overhead, crisscrossing the sky.  Some of those drones carried people, but most were carrying just cargo.  She walked into the heliport lobby, where her credentials were wirelessly accessed and her face scanned .

It was an odd holdover from the days where nearly all aircraft were piloted by people, but to fly, one still needed a pilot’s certificate.  However, the FAA had, eventually, agreed that given that drones had paved the way for fully automated aircraft that didn’t really need a pilot, so had created a new category of pilot, the “Commuter”.  Training for the Commuter Certificate included understanding weather limitations and emergency operations.  A commuter pilot had to demonstrate the ability to hand-fly her aircraft to a safe landing.  Cora enjoyed hand-flying the tilt-rotor aircraft that she regularly flew.  But as she mostly flew within the Class B airspace above the City, she rarely got the chance.  All aircraft, manned or unmanned, was under the Air Traffic Computer’s (ATC) direct control.  The aircraft’s autopilot followed those control instructions to an accuracy measured in millimeters and milliseconds.  Only in the rural areas outside of the Class B airspace were pilots able to turn-off their autopilots.

Cora walked around the tilt-rotor aircraft that she would be flying today.  It was the latest model CyPhy Works ship, which Cora prefered since it had the most stable and smooth ride.  The aircraft had two sets of thin high wings, fore and aft.  At the wingtips were nacelles that held electric motors that powered the four long propeller rotors.  Slung under the wings was a sleek fuselage with a large clear polymer canopy that stretched from the forward wing to under the front of the fuselage, much like a old-style helicopter.  She compared its “N-number” to the one she had reserved that morning and began her Pre-Flight Inspection.  The on-board computer began its internal checks while Cora walked around the ship.   Her DynEye glasses’ build-in camera recorded each item and sent a copy to her insurance company as proof of the readiness of the aircraft.  The insurance’s companies Artificial Intelligence (AI) based agent’s image recognition software agreed that all was in order and gave its concurrence that the aircraft appeared to be airworthy.

The aircraft ready, Cora boarded and begain the on-board pre-flight confirmation that her flight plan has been fully uploaded to ATC and that the ship’s autopilot is ready to execute it.  The hydrogen in the tanks for the fuel cells being sufficient for the intended flight plus the FAA regulatorily required reserve, ATC gave its concurrence.  All indications being nominal, she authorized the autopilot to taxi from the multi-story hanger (like an old-style car garage) up to the roof-top helipad.  The two main wheels built in electric motors propelled the ship while the front wheel castered as the autopilot steered the ship up the ramps.  At the top, the ship waited momentarily as an incoming aircraft hovered momentarily above the pad, touched down, shut down its rotors and taxied past Cora’s ship on its way down the ramp to the hanger below.  Air Traffic Computer queried Cora one last time to see if she and her ship were ready.  She taped the screen in concurrence and the ship taxis forward, the rotors spun up to take off speed and the main wheels ran up to full power to speed the ship to a running take-off.  Once in the air, the craft accelerated rapidly and the rotors, previously upright, began their gentle tiling down to their propeller configuration.  By the time the ship was above a thousand feet, it had fully converted from a quad-copter to being a four motor airplane.

As she was only going across town, the flight was conducted at only 1,500 meters, which at 300kph only take her ten minutes.  As she came up through the overcast, the sun’s glare was automatically blocked by her DynEye glasses.  Cora relaxed and took in the view.  Once upon a time, a major city like this would have been grey bleakness.  But today, her eyes beheld a city that was mostly green with parks, green belts, rooftop gardens, and tree studded plazas, all to combat the heat-island effect that cities used to be.  Looking forward toward the City center, the tall towers beckoned to her, or at least to the autopilot.  As her appointment was in one of those towers, her flight would end on the roof-top helipad.  The aircraft began slowing as the tilt-rotors leaned back to their quad-copter orientation as it came in for a soft touch-down on the roof.

A very quick ride down the elevator, as the aircraft flew to a nearby heliport, deadheading to pick up its next passenger, Cora’s mind turned to her appointment.  As the elevators doors opened, she spied a young man behind the reception desk.  He wore a very fashionable, designer mask.  Cora suspected that it was probably fab’ed by his 3D printer that very morning, to keep up with the very latest of fashion.  Originally, wearing masks had been the exclusive province of the rich and famous, the celebrities desperate to avoid the prying spy drones of the paparazzi.  But that had spawned a fashion for wearing masks, that quickly become yet another fashion statement, often worn more to show off wealth, than to hide it.

The receptionist, though he didn’t know her personally, greeted her by name and jumped up to open the door to escort her personally to her meeting.  Of course, her face, being unmasked, was scanned and recognized by his reception desk terminal.  As she entered the secure area for the group conference meeting her DynEye system acknowledged the office computer’s command to stop all broadcast and to encrypt its ongoing recording with the approved security protocols.

And given this… the rest of this day’s diary entry is only available to authorized viewers only.

Update 11/8/2017:  Remember, I wrote the above three years ago… and now this is what Uber is dreaming of doing:  https://www.theverge.com/2017/11/8/16613228/uber-flying-car-la-nasa-space-act

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