Ecocentricity Blog: The Time Traveler's Car Part II

By: John A. Lanier
Oct 9, 2019 9:30 AM ET
Summary: 

Lilium’s design produced something technically impressive and elegantly beautiful. That is nature’s way, and it shows what’s possible when we turn to the natural world for instruction and inspiration.

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For any regular readers of Ecocentricity, I think you’ve figured out my schtick by now. I come up with some out-of-left-field introductory topic and riff on it for a few paragraphs. Then, I use that topic to make a 90-degree turn to some relevant environmental topic. I don’t know if it’s a good schtick, but it’s at least my schtick.

Conventional wisdom would probably say that for my schtick to work, I need to consistently use different intro topics to keep things fresh. But to conventional wisdom, I retort, “This is my schtick, not yours, so get off my lawn!” And so, to make sure that conventional wisdom knows I’m the boss and not it, I feel compelled to do another time travel intro, even though I did that three weeks ago. Let’s do this.

Hot take: Back to the Future Part II is a bad movie. I mean, it’s fun I guess, but the story is confusing as heck. I just reread the plot on Wikipedia to refresh my memory, and now my brain hurts.

I remember several years back when we were approaching the date in the movie that Doc Brown and Marty McFly travelled to the in future – October 21, 2015. Plenty of folks wrote about what the movie got right and wrong in predicting the future, and here’s one of those articles if you are curious.

I mainly wanted to talk about flying cars. They swung and missed on that one, since cars on city streets were still firmly planted on all fours when 2015 came and went. Still, they may not have missed by much – it turns out that flying cars may not be all that far off (and yes, that was my 90-degree turn).

Please meet Lilium. This German start-up is working to create an all-electric air-taxi, though admittedly it’s still more airplane than car. They piloted a two-seater jet in 2017, and in May of this year, they took their maiden flight with a five-seater jet. The craft can lift off vertically, and it has a range of 300 kilometers. Their hope is to be operating commercially in cities by 2025, which seems aggressive to me, but I won’t bet against them.

If you’re as geeked out by that as I am, then definitely watch this video of their vertical lift off. But there’s also a cherry on top of this sundae of awesomeness. This is a biomimicry story.

Take a look at this CleanTechnica article about Lilium (last hyperlink, I promise). In search of a minimalist design that would “glide” through the air, the Lilium team turned to the manta ray. What resulted was something technically impressive and elegantly beautiful. That is nature’s way, and it shows what’s possible when we turn to the natural world for instruction and inspiration.

As we see the concurrent shift toward renewable energy and electrification, a whole new world of possibility emerges. Lilium and its like could become a reality sooner than later. Perhaps the Back to the Future Part II filmmakers needed even more imagination!

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Valerie Bennett
Ray C. Anderson Foundation
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