Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Jetson’s Predecessor, Circa 2012

Roy Amara was a researcher, scientist and past president of the Institute for the Future. Born in Boston 1925, he has also worked at Stanford Research Institute. He held a BS in Management, an MS in the Arts and Sciences, and a Ph.D. in Systems Engineering. He died in 2007. He is possibly best known for the quotation ”We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run”, which was paraphrased by Robert X. Cringely, and is sometimes known as Amara’s Law.
Wikipedia, emphasis added
So, if we underestimate future technology (extrapolating from today’s inventions) based on Amara’s Law (Amara’s Hope?), might we expect to proceed from patent US 8,232,699 to the Jetson-mobile by 2062?
The Jetson’s, again according to Wikipedia, originally aired on the ABC television network from September 1962 to March 1963; it described the foibles of the Jetson family residing in Orbit City in 2062. A major milestone, “[a]t the time of its debut, it was the first program ever to be broadcast in color on ABC-TV.” Don’t be embarrassed to admit (nod if you’d like) that you watched the program. After all, the early 1960s were a time of great optimism about the future, and the role that technology would play in our society. Much different times than today. I miss them. But I digress.
The Patent
US Patent 8,232,699 was issued to Kyli Irene Letang (Las Vegas, NV) on the last day of July, 2012. She retained assignee rights. Her invention, “Magnetically levitating vehicle,” reaches back to July 1966 insofar as the cited patents go. Her earliest patent citation is to US 3,260,475, “Space Vehicle Directing Apparatus,” – perhaps the Jetsons reference isn’t so far fetched after all [1] … The earliest US patent granted for magnetic levitation transportation is US 782,312, “Electric Traction Apparatus,” issued to German inventor Alfred Zehden in 1905. Another early invention was memorialized in US 859,018, “Transportation System,” issued to Franklin S. Smith of Philadelphia, PA in 1907.
The ‘699 patent was issued under the USPTO Green Tech Pilot Program. Letang seeks a vehicle that hovers “above its tires with the use of magnetic levitation.” 
“[T]he present invention brings a new aspect to magnetic levitation and propulsion by not requiring its own track, as is the case with maglev trains. Thus, it can directly be incorporated into the existing transportation infrastructure. … The present invention addresses concerns regarding energy and fossil fuel consumption in the transportation industry. Also, the present invention does not use or contain a combustion engine and is powered solely through electricity. This reduces the impact the present invention has on the environment and is concurrent with the needs of the future.”
OK, so her goal is to convert an area source of air pollution (an internal combustion engine in a vehicle) to a point source (a coal or natural gas power plant). Also, the inventor knows the needs of the future.
The patent’s claim 1 states:
A magnetically levitating vehicle comprises, a frame;
a control device;
a plurality of tire chambers;
a plurality of tires;
the frame comprises of a magnetic shield, a cabin, and a under carriage guard;
the magnetic shield being positioned inside of the frame and surrounding the plurality of tire chambers;
and the undercarriage guard being positioned underneath the frame.
The Novelty
The inventor’s detailed description of the invention provides insight into the perceived novelty of the invention:
  • These components include a levitation system, a control system, a propulsion system, a tire safety system, and an electromagnetic shielding system. The present invention uses magnetic properties to perform its purpose. Thus, the present invention requires no fuel to run and operate. The present invention operates with the use of a magnetic sensing system that is powered with rechargeable batteries. To hover above its own tires, the present invention contains a levitation system that is maintained through interactions between the car and the tire. To turn, the present invention uses its propulsion system to carry out inputs from the control system. Also, it implements a tire safety system to ensure that the tires remain in proper position while driving. Another safety precaution taken is a shielding system that helps to ensure the many magnetic fields involved in moving and guiding the present invention does not become unmanageable or interfere with other magnetic devices in the car (i.e. cell phones). 
  • [A] major difference in the design is seen in its unique plurality of tire chambers. Traditionally, cars have exposed wheel wells on both the left and right sides, which mark the position of each of the four tires. The plurality of tire chambers are similar in shape to hemispheres, which protrudes past the surface of the present invention’s body to protect the plurality of tires. 
  • Instead of using a conventional tire design, the present invention has a plurality of tires that are shaped as spheres. The tires are able to rotate in a 360° motion which allows for easier turning and steering. The lack of restriction on the rotation of the tires also means the present invention can travel in any direction. 
  • [A]nother unique aspect to the tires’ design is that they contain two layers: an inner shell and outer shell. The inner shell is located inside the outer shell; in between the surfaces of the two shells is air. Inside the inner shell is an orientation device, in the present design, a gyroscope is used to maintain the proper orientation and positioning of the inner shell, while allowing the outer shell to fully rotate. 
  • [A] major benefit of the Magno car is the ability to operate the car with only one hand. The present invention is controlled by a single control device, which comprises of a control stick, an accelerator button, a brake button, a levitation button, and a mounting device. 
My favorite novelty aspect of this invention (setting aside levitation above the tires, spherical tires, shielding system (Kirk: “Scotty, bring up the shields.” Scott: “Aye, shields are up, Captain.”), 360° tire turning (on ice & snow? – no thanks. Maybe there’s an after-market heat-ray gun for that.), gyroscopes encased in the tires, one-hand vehicle operation using what seems to be a fighter-jet hand controller complete with multiple “pickles”, and especially discounting the purchase, maintenance, and repair costs for this bad boy) – my favorite aspect is that “the present invention requires no fuel to run and operate.” Cool.
A Green Tech Patent – Really?
And to think, the USPTO Green Tech Pilot Program actually issued a patent for this. I guess because it’s the ultimate fuel-saving vehicle.
The mind … she boggles.

Watch the video for a view of the future of this invention
  1. For all you space junkies, or those that would like a taste of nostalgia, please read the articles on NASA’s Mission Control recently published by Ars Technica here  and here. Also, a detailed review of the engineering behind bringing Apollo 13 home by ieee spectrum. Do any of our readers remember Shorty Powers, the voice of Mercury Control? Did you, like me, count down with him – “5–4–3–2–1–0! We have lift-off! And the clock is running!” How sad that the United States of America, the country that put men on the moon (RIP Neil Armstrong, and other passed lunar astronauts), can’t launch a single person to even sub-orbit, in late 2012, and the nation’s imagination is captured for a day by an Austrian adventurer who ascends to 25 miles in a high-tech balloon and parachutes to earth, 65 years to the day that Chuck Yeager exceeded the speed of sound in the Bell X–1 (read Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff). So much for national vision, determination, and will.