The Idea of Technological Fantasies

Note:  this is not a sex site and neither are any of the sister sites listed below .

Technological Fantasies are fantasies or daydreams involving the creation and use of technology, especially new technology, and might also be described as unimplemented inventions.    This site will collect such fantasies and try to communicate them to people who might do something useful with them, perhaps turning fantasy intro reality.   The underlying approach will be similar to the use of a database to collect and organize software development projects at the spectacularly successful SourceForge.net website.

Example Technological Fantasy:  Forest Fire Fighting

Technological Fantasies, as the expression is used here, can be either fiction or the non-fictional descriptions of interesting ideas for new technology. To illustrate these two very different forms of fantasy, here is an interesting idea for technology to fight forest fires, expressed twice, once as fiction and once as non-fictional description.   Some graphic art illustrating forest fire fighting in the past and in the future as fantasized about here would be a great addition to this page — would anyone be willing to provide some?

Blowing Back and Burning Big  — a Technological Fantasy as a fictional short story

It was only after the pilot asked for and received permission to take off that I noticed the propellers were still pointing forward.   I didn’t comment on this as the plane began its take-off roll down the runway, perhaps because I didn’t want to distract the pilot during take-off,  but more likely because I was scared shitless and couldn’t make a sound.   But once we were airborne in apparently normal flight, and the pilot engaged the auto-pilot, I spoke up.  “I thought we were going to take off straight up — isn’t that the whole idea of Vertical Take-off and Landing airplanes?”

“No, no way we are going to do that any more often than we have to!”   At this remark my diminishing fear suddenly flashed into total terror.   The last thing you want to hear in your first flight on a new and still unproven aircraft is an undertone of fear in the pilot’s voice.  “Please tell me that wasn’t an undertone of fear I heard in your voice”, I asked her, my heart now beating faster than the throbbing sound of the big propellers.  She turned to me and smiled.   “Naw, I just faked that to see you turn that nice slightly off-white colour, like real ivory piano keys.   Going up vertical and rotating to level flight doesn’t take more than a few days off your life-expectancy.   But that means we’ll lose a year or two today, just from rotating the engines, to say nothing about the danger of flying to the edge of forest fires”.

“Uh, lose … losing a year or two?”

“Oh, uh, you’re a science reporter, aren’t you — I thought you’d understand risk measurement talk.   It’s pretty technical stuff, underneath, but it’s user-friendly.   You just divide the number of years of life you’d lose if we had a fatal accident today by the probability of that accident happening, and the result is the statistical expectation … the result is the amount of life you lose, on average, by doing this dangerous thing you’re doing.  VTOL aircraft are rather accident prone and we’re going to do the most dangerous up, sideways, and down stuff a lot today.”.   A slight frown creased her face — either she didn’t like thinking about fatal accidents any more than I did, or she had aesthetic distaste for my already pale face losing even more colour, more like the pages in my notebook than old piano keys.

“Actually, this firefighting stuff should be done with a pilotless drone”, she went on, “but we don’t have any pilotless drones, so this experiment has to endanger the life of the pilot and any passenger foolish enough to ride along”.

Our dialogue became a monologue at this point as I lost the ability to utter sounds.   I wanted to explain to her that my editor at the paper had lied to me, told me this was perfectly safe, and that I needed to go sharpen a couple of pencils, if she wouldn’t mind landing for a few minutes, but I just couldn’t get the words out of my mouth.

Real men don’t faint from fear, so I’ll deny doing that, just as I always deny eating quiche.   But when I regained consciousness we were doing a vertical landing right at the edge of a forest fire!   When I regained consciousness again we were down on the ground, which was a good thing, fondly hoped for, and my morale would have been greatly improved, except for one problem — we were just a few feet away from a raging forest fire that seemed to be moving in our direction.   Sally, the pilot, whose charms I was incapable of noticing at the moment, was now rotating the engines and their attached propellers so the latter would point at the fire.   Or so I deduce from the fact the props were pointed — I mean directed — at the fire when the sound of the engines revving to high speed awoke me from my funk.

What happened next was exactly what everyone expected.   The fire that had been approaching us — and the neighbouring school building we were trying to save — at some thirty or forty miles per hour under the influence of a seventy miles per hour gale was blown back by the 140 mph wind from the plane’s reversed-pitch propellers.   The fire was blown back until it was a hundred feet or so away from the plane, where it held steady for the twenty minutes until it burnt itself out.

“Amazing!”, I managed to say, hoarsely from my very dry mouth.   It wasn’t actually all that amazing, since we all more or less knew from laboratory experiments and computer simulations what a strong opposing blast of wind would do to the fire  —  but it was the only word my mind could think of, my IQ being reduced to low double digit level by the lack of blood flow to the brain.   I also managed to to force out the words “Go home now?” expressing my strongest wish.

“Not yet, sweety — look around us.  Now we have to move over about a hundred feet and do it again”.

And that’s what she did, over and over again, rolling on plane’s wheels where possible, but usually lifting a few feet off, vertically, then flying over to our next blowing position.   It all worked, and what really is amazing, we survived it.   I am sure the experience did take several years off my life, although at the day’s end, in the nearest bar, Sally explained that the risk estimation stuff was just statistical averaging made simple, and that anyone who survived such a dangerous experience would not live any less for doing so, and might even live longer.

As we all know now, using current VTOL aircraft for fighting fires never took off, so to speak, being just too dangerous and even more expensive.   Instead we use large aircraft engines mounted on trucks, and the lake country use propeller driven boats imported from Florida.   Was it really necessary to do a proof-of-concept experiment with a VTOL aircraft? No.   Was it really necessary to send a reporter along to cover the story?   No, and I’ve never forgiven my editor for lying to me about the risks and insisting I go.   In future I will never flirt with the wives of people in positions of power — something I’m less likely to do anyway, now that I know Sally —  who still flies airplanes, though I’ve never even been in an airplane since that day and won’t get anywhere near anything that’s on fire, either, not even fake, gas-burning, fireplaces or wax candles.

Notes:

The VTOL aircraft in the above story is a smokescreen, so to speak, or red herring — it is just a hook to hang the real contents of the story on.   But propeller-driven VTOL aircraft can and do produce a remarkable amount of high-speed wind, so the events mentioned in this short story are actually possible.   For the same underlying idea in more direct form, see the alternative form of technological fantasy in the brief non-fiction proposal below.

Fighting Fire and Wind with Wind and Fire  —  A Technological Fantasy in Proposal Form

In fighting forest and brush fires it is common to try to burn out areas to serve as firebreaks between the fire and either the unburnt forest or human occupation area to be protected.   This proposal is for an improvement to that technique based on the addition of wind machines — propellers driven by powerful engines — to counteract the effects of natural winds which so often speed the advance of the fire towards the areas to be protected while at the same time making the creation of burnt-out barriers impossible.

The other way traditional ways of fighting forest fires include the use of water, either from fire hoses or more effectively from water bombers, aircraft which scoop up water from a lake in mid-flight, then drop it over the fire, and the use of bulldozers or even men with axes and shovels to clear the land of flammable brush or trees and so create a bare strip for use as a firebreak.   The latter technique is often combined with the creation of burned out areas, for example by using cleared strips to limit the spread of small fires started to produce burnt out areas.   The combination of clearing and burning can be very effective where and when conditions permit, but like all uses of fire to fight fire it is at the mercy of favourable winds.

Wind is the great enemy of all those who fight fires in any context, urban, rural, or in forests, brush or grassland..   A wind blowing towards the area to be protected can and usually does make it possible to create firebreaks by setting controlled fires to burn up trees or brush between the protected area and the oncoming uncontrolled fire.   But wind can be created and directed by machines, and such unnatural winds could be used to combat the natural winds that may be blowing the forest fire towards occupied regions or valuable undamaged forests.   By using large propellers driven by very large engines such as aircraft engines mounted on trucks or caterpillar tractors, enough artificial wind could be directed back against the natural wind to completely counter its effects over a small intermediate area — exactly the intermediate area to be ignited and burnt to deprive the oncoming forest fire of fuel;  exactly the area to become a firebreak..  This artificial wind blowing away from the protected region and towards the oncoming fire would either neutralize the natural wind coming from the other direction, or more likely combine with it to provide the purposely ignited and controlled fire with lots of wind so it would more quickly burn through the flammable ground-cover.

This proposal is for experiments to investigate this possibility, either in a very small, table-top experiment, or in an acre or so of isolated land with scrub tree cover, or perhaps even on a larger scale.   Computer simulation should also be tried.   Sources of wind could include rented “Hollywood” wind-machines, aircraft engines mounted on trucks, actual aircrafts that land near a fire site, lock their brakes and direct the wash from their propellers towards the fire, propeller driven boats from the Florida or Louisiana wetlands, or (to protect railway lines) large diesel engines mounted on railcars.   Software wind in computer simulations might be based on software used for modelling weather.

In real life emergencies where desperate measures sometimes need to be taken without adequate preparation a quick and dirty, unplanned, last-ditch experiment could be tried with whatever improvised sources of artificial wind might be available.

Notes:

This proposal is not at all formal, and lacks detail, and could hardly be used for anything but to communicate ideas to someone who might either want to write it up properly as a real proposal or start planning and conducting small scale experiments.   Amateurs should be discouraged from trying this in their backyards — fire is dangerous and the risks are too great.   But the last sentence of  the brief proposal above and the sentence about amateur experimenters, immediately above, should suggest the obvious Hollywood movie fantasy,  with its desperate acts by the action hero to put out the special-effects fire.   That this movie would be so obviously a fantasy, a technological fantasy, based on the technology of propellers and diesel engines, should explain the use the word fantasy in the domain name and URL of this website.


Copyright © 2001 and 2002

Copyright © 2002, 2008, 2009, Douglas Pardoe Wilson

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