Do we really need any more technology?

I rather like the idea of a city in which both rickshaws and flying taxis are proliferating
Click to follow
The Independent Online

A company called Avcen has reportedly designed a £500,000 aircraft called the Jetpod, which is propelled by twin turbojets and is intended to be used as a taxi, ferrying passengers in and out of cities along designated corridors 750ft up, at 350mph. If sufficient investment can be found, the Jetpod could apparently be in use in Britain within just five years, requiring landing strips only 400ft long and charging fares little more than those charged by black London cabs.

A company called Avcen has reportedly designed a £500,000 aircraft called the Jetpod, which is propelled by twin turbojets and is intended to be used as a taxi, ferrying passengers in and out of cities along designated corridors 750ft up, at 350mph. If sufficient investment can be found, the Jetpod could apparently be in use in Britain within just five years, requiring landing strips only 400ft long and charging fares little more than those charged by black London cabs.

To excite us further, Avcen have released an artist's impression of a Jetpod fleet in mid-air. It is a thrilling sight. Although disappointingly, the pilot moaning over his shoulder about asylum-seekers or Sven Goran Eriksson or the cost of a television licence, saying that things would never have come to this under Maggie Thatcher, is, as yet, left entirely to the imagination.

Black cab jokes are irresistible in consideration of whether Jetpods will come to pass. Even a sober report in this newspaper yesterday began with the notion that they might refuse to venture south of the Thames after dark. As for those City boys who routinely throw up in the backs of cabs on their way home after a night on the razzle, and are then summarily chucked out by the furious cabbie, it's pleasing to think that they're going to need parachutes in future. And what of that other late-night ritual, getting the cab to pull over while you visit a cashpoint machine? Bungee-jumping might be the only answer.

This Jetpod story deserves to be treated seriously, however. For one thing, it is worth noting that traffic problems in London - and inevitably it is the capital which is likely to get Jetpods first - are being tackled at both ends of transport's evolutionary scale. I rather like the idea of a city in which both rickshaws and flying taxis are proliferating.

I have no doubt that these flying taxis will arrive, sooner or later. How else will our metropolitan transport systems progress? Besides, the human brain is essentially inventive, yet invention is being stifled by the inescapable fact that humankind has knocked together pretty much everything it really needs. If necessity is the mother of invention, then invention is now an orphan. What do we really need that we don't already have? Obviously we could do with peace on earth and an end to famine, cancer and I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here. But what do we really need, I mean, in terms of genuinely new technology? Nothing. So we might as well get these Jetpods off the ground.

Maybe our 19th century forbears thought the same, reasonably contented with their lot and unable even to begin to imagine the telephone or the jet engine or the Pot Noodle. But looking back it is clear that the world still needed those things, with the possible exception - although when I was 17 I would have been prepared to debate the point - of the Pot Noodle.

It is possible that our descendants 150 years from now will think the same about us, that if only we'd known what we were missing, that life must have been pretty dismal without the personal robot to do our fetching and carrying, and to massage our feet or play Chopin for us at the end of a hard day. But it seems more likely to me that we have reached saturation point, and that the only inventions from now until the end of time are likely to be, essentially, refinements. Transportation that can get us to Australia in three hours, or to the moon in 10; televisions that project three-dimensional images into our living-rooms; that kind of thing.

The majority of inventions from the 21st century onwards are also likely to be reactive rather than proactive, tackling the problems that we have caused for ourselves with inventions in the past. Advances in bomb detection equipment come into this category. So does the non-polluting car. And so does the Jetpod, which is being billed as a way of beating congestion, scooting you "from the countryside to the centre of London in two or three minutes", according to Avcen's bullish managing director Mike Dacre.

It certainly seems logical to look upwards for a way to get quickly into and out of London. In the late 19th century the city fathers looked downwards, building an Underground train system that was one of the glories of the age.

It is glorious no longer. It is, indeed, pretty inglorious. And the situation at street level is even worse.

So a fleet of Jetpods could be just the ticket, apart from the damage they will do to the ozone layer and the noise they will make (20 decibels less than a conventional jet, apparently, but still rather loud), not to mention their possible deployment by criminals and terrorists. And then there's the added consideration that nobody has yet invented a mode of travel invulnerable to human error or technical malfunction, and a collision between a couple of flying taxis over London is too horrible to contemplate, not least for the pilot of the one in front, when he gets out to inspect the damage to his rear bumper, shouting "you bleedin' idiot, look what you've done!"

b.viner@independent.co.uk

Comments