Tomorrow's world today

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Re-inventing the wheel: this topic seems to have been a preoccupation of the Tomorrow's World researchers ever since the series began in 1965. The messianic fervour that drives inventors to find new ways for humans to travel shows no sign of abating, despite the fact that transport technology is surely close to being as sophisticated as it will get, and refinement is the key to further progress. Trains are becoming faster and smoother; cars yet more aero-dynamic, fuel-efficient and comfortable; bicycles tougher, lighter and more adaptable to different environments. A feasibility study for the replacement of Concorde has been underway since 1990.

And yet there seems to be a core of innovators who insist that we can do it differently. Take a look at a few of the ill-fated transport ideas that have featured on Tomorrow's World in the last 30 years. First, in the late 1960s, came the prototype for the Air Cushion Vehicle, which is best described as an individual hovercraft. In 1998 you'd be less surprised to see someone driving an individual fruit pie, but at the time it was confidently promoted as a transportation breakthrough. "Designed to attract the sports car enthusiast, it will be on sale in a month or two," predicted Tomorrow's World.

Anna Ford popped up as a guest presenter in the 1970s, and in the best tradition of TW was required to make a complete fool of herself trying out some ludicrous invention that would clearly never see the light of day. "Miraculous though it may seem, that short cut across the water is possible," Anna said, ploughing arduously over a lake on a pair of giant, pedal-powered flippers. James Burke made an even more ridiculous sight when, dressed in full City stockbroker gear, he demonstrated a bizarre method of crossing the Thames by tumbling around inside a huge inflatable pyramid to propel it forwards over the water. Wouldn't it have been easier to take the bridge?

But the man (and it can only have been a man) who takes the smart-arse prize is the one who invented the AeroCar. Tomorrow's world thought it was a great idea. "The dream of being able to flick a switch and fly up, out of the chaos on the roads, need no longer be a dream." Amazingly, this oversized milk float could, thanks to the rotary blades attached to its roof, rise vertically out of the traffic and whirl off into the ether. Thankfully the idea never took off, so to speak, and if you ask me that's no small mercy. Imagine what a nightmare it would be to take your driving test in one: "When I bring my hand down sharply on the dashboard, Ms Smith, I want you to make an emergency landing on the roof of the shopping centre. Watch out for that pigeon."

If the Flying Bicycle, also featured on TW in the 1960s, had ever gone into production, the skies over Britain would have been as chaotic with commuters and couriers as Hyde Park Corner at 9am on a Monday morning. Cloud rage, anyone?

This week on Tomorrow's World (BBC1, 7.30) Jez Nelson makes some predictions for the future of football. Tomorrow's World Plus goes out on the UK Horizons channel.

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