Some people, if they had $300 million dollars, would try to put Firefly back on the air. I would probably do something stupid with it, though, like build exactly the kind of car I would want to have if I became a crimefighter.
Obviously, the best car for crimefighting (and in general) is the Batmobile. I don’t think anyone’s arguing about that. First choice, if you’ve got to have a car to fight crime, it’s got to be the Batmobile.
But not all of us are Batman, is the thing. And I’m not sure how much utility there’d be in a car that can jump over buildings, or can shoot rockets. I mean, sure, there are probably times when you want to shoot something with a rocket, but really, you’re risking a lot of collateral damage shooting rockets around in the street, especially during the middle of a high-speed chase.
But let’s figure: if you are a crimefighter, what do you need a car *for*? Probably for getting around quickly in the city, #1. Probably to make a getaway from the police, #2. Now, a motorbike would be a pretty good tool for that, especially if you were an ex-motorcross racer who, after getting into an accident and having his spine replaced with a rocket-powered cybernetic spine, decided to become a superhero. But there’s also #3, which is to carry some stuff around with you. What if you have to get someone to the hospital? What if you want to carry some kind of sensor package or computer along?
You need a car.
How does it drive?
Here’s the thing: if you’re going to make a getaway from the cops, you aren’t going to do it on the highway. Once you’re on the highway, you’ve got nowhere to go. You can’t even change direction, because they have that big cement wall in the way (I guess if your car could leap over the wall, but still). You’re going to get helicopters following you around, the cops know where the entrances and exits are. It’s a terrible plan.
If you’re going to make an *escape*, you’re going to do it in the city, where everything is crowded and you’ve got more opportunities available for movement. So you need:
1) fast acceleration and DEcelaration, which means a light car.
2) the ability to corner really well
3) Some kind of good suspension, I guess.
I’m actually imagining an electric car (for additional reasons, that I’ll get to later), partly because of the lower weight profile. The inside is going to be fairly gutted, anyway, though, so weight was probably never going to be a huge issue.
You could build it so that each of the four wheels had an independent electric motor, giving it four-wheel drive — and then, while you’re at it, give each wheel and independent suspension. Because you’ve got a simplified drive train, the undercarriage of the car could potentially be much higher with regards to the axles than you usually see on a car.
Not only that, but since we’re making things independent, you can build the rear wheels with their own turning capacity. This can work geometrically with the steering, so that light turns on the steering wheel don’t effect the back wheels that much, but a hard turn will make them turn as much as the front, essentially allowing the car to spin around in place.
I imagine this is going to take care of a lot of your maneuverability issues. I have some ideas about traction, but I think I’m going to save that for my next post on shows.
How does it escape?
So, first of all, the Batmobile is a pretty high-profile car. You don’t look at the Batmobile and not realize it’s the Batmobile. That isn’t going to happen. And probably if I have a crimefighting super-car, there’s going to be tell-tale signs. It’s basically got to have tinted windows, for instance. Figuring for the sake of argument that it couldn’t survive close inspection, is there a way to improve its odds of passing casual inspection? Especially in the dark, in a crowded city, going at 60 miles an hour?
Well, maybe. First of all, I think the Toyota Camry is the most popular car on the road right now. So, lame as it is to be a crimefighter in a Toyota, that’s how you want your car to look. Just remember that it isn’t REALLY a Toyota, right? That silvery blue color is probably the most popular color, too.
So, again, tinted windows, riding unusually high, maybe a suspicious wheel design — someone who looks twice might notice there’s something fishy. But that’s the point: who is going to look twice at a Toyota Camry?
Let’s do a bit more, though. So, remember, the car is electric, which means it runs practically silent. No screaming down the streets with a jet turbine. It may not be able to break 80 miles an hour, but who cares? In a city, you’re rarely going to get the chance to go that fast, anyway, and the silence is going to make up for a lot.
But I want to add two things. 1) license plate is a color e-ink panel. Close inspection will reveal it’s a fake, but from any distance, you can just switch out your license plate and registration stickers with whatever you can think of. Sure, the color saturation on color e-ink isn’t that great just yet, but I figure it’ll be at least three years before I can build this car, so I’m not worried.
2) The panels of the car body. I am imagining a layer of molded plexiglass (roughened, to reduce glare) on top of another color e-ink panel. Behind that, I was thinking of a highly flexible, bullet-resistant fabric like kevlar.
You don’t really need armor plating on a car like this, I don’t think; you don’t need bullets to bounce off, just to not make it through the doors. The e-ink panels are going to get wrecked if you get shot, but that’s why you don’t become a crimefigher unless you’re a millionaire.
Anyway, the benefits of the e-ink panels are pretty obvious, in that at the very least you’d be able to change the color of the car. I was trying to think of a way to actually change the topography of the panels, but couldn’t come up with anything that would be a lot more trouble than it was worth (which is to say: not worth very much; all generic cars have basically the same shape anyway).
A few small cameras lining the length of the car are going to let you do some basic camouflage. Even if the resolution on the e-ink isn’t very high, so we’re not talking an invisible car, it’ll be enough to do at least that army digital camouflage that they have. Enough so that if you took a hard right around a corner and slipped into an alley before the cops manage to get their cruisers turned around, they probably wouldn’t notice you.
What kind of stuff does it have?
I have been thinking about this, too. Presuming that I’m going to need tinted windows anyway, I figure the best thing to do is to actually just make them thick, opaque, bullet-proof glass. That’s where, if people are going to shoot at me, they’re going to aim — and my car has got a ring of cameras around it, remember?
So, I’ve probably got a pair of glasses, and a program that essentially made the car transparent, so I could see all around me wherever I looked. (I guess…figure the windshield and windows use LCDs to turn opaque; there should be a way to see through them if my glasses get busted.) You could also do neat things, like not have any buttons in the car — just a panel that should you “virtual buttons” when you reached for it.
Anyway, the car has also got a couple laser distancers running, probably in infrared (or something with a high penetration value, that will work through smoke or fog), that keep track of objects ahead of you. The HUD, based on your acceleration, wheel orientation, and brake speed estimation (all fairly simple physics equations, when you think about it) lights up everything in front of you and, probably by color, distinguishes what you’re on an intercept course with, and what you’re in danger of not being able to brake in time to avoid hitting.
This is going to be pretty valuable, driving around in a cluttered environment. If everything you’re not going to hit is lit up in green, for instance, then the path with the fewest obstacles is going to look like a kind of green road, you see?
You could put all kinds of other stuff in there, too. I don’t know why you’d want to track available wireless networks, but you could. You could keep an eye on police and military radio frequencies, to see if anyone nearby is talking about you, that kind of stuff. Google Maps, obviously.
Cops probably have radio transponders in their cars that let each other know when they’re nearby, so you could build something that would look for that.
Some other things! I’m figuring that you’ve got additional batteries and whanot stuffed into the passenger seat. Any people or whatever you’re going to stick in the back seat. You can put your superhero tools back there — you know, grapnel, taser, whatever. I think you could build a cannon that shot smoke grenades.
Actually, let me take a minute and talk about this. Really, a lot of the “anti-car” technology that crimefighters use is pretty dangerous: caltrops, oil-slicks, flares, rockets — all of this stuff risks the cars that are chasing you spinning dangerously out of control and getting some poor bystander killed.
The one thing that I think could work would be smoke grenades, but the way that you’d have to use them is:
1) you’d prep them several seconds in advance.
2) you’d fire them FORWARD, well ahead of you, so that the prepped (re: smoking) grenade is already pluming before you get near it.
3) you’d probably fire a spread of four or five grenades, to cover a maximum amount of area.
You’ve got radar and laser distancing, so you could plunge through a big cloud of smoke without worrying about hitting anything — but the guys chasing you are more likely to slow down or stop, rather than risk a collision. I think.
Maybe not, but it’s a dangerous world, I can’t be held responsible for everything.