Friday, 28 March 2014

The One Bit of Fantasy / Sci-Fi That Needs Inventing Tomorrow

Science Fiction and Fantasy has given us many wonderful aspirations for the future, most of which never happen.

Jet packs, for instance. They told us we'd all have them now. We don't, anymore than we all go around with pointy, slightly shiny faces, wearing jumpsuits made out of bacofoil. Teleportation likewise - which at least saves us all those philosophical and religious debates about whether, when we're disassembled, transmitted at the speed of light, and then reconstructed at the other end we're really the same people.

And, that other Sci-Fi staple - who wants food in tablet form? Apart from the radical shortening of romantic evenings out, I reckon everybody in a food-pill alternative future is gonna have the old Farmer Giles summat rotten. Although some of the wasters I've had evenings out with, just eating a food pill and clearing off would have been preferable. And most of them have deserved the intestinal and other consequences.

And telepathy? What fool would invent that? Aren't there enough wars, and sufficient relationship breakdowns, without everyone knowing what everyone else is thinking? Blimey, the planet would be a bombsite within ten minutes of that being invented.

But there's one invention that should be achievable today, with current technology, and would be of immense value to civilisation. I refer, of course, to the Luggage.

The Luggage, should you not know, belongs to the tourist Twoflower in Terry Pratchett's sublime Discworld starter,  The Colour of Magic. It travels around on its dear little legs, and is fiercely protective of its owner.
Even if you removed its ability to eat muggers, it would massively improve the situation at Bedford and St Pancras stations, and at that trickiest of halfway points between, Luton Airport Parkway.

See, the situation's got out of hand. Some fool gets persuaded that "London Luton Airport" is in some way near you London, and books their flight to Ibiza or wherever from there.  Oh no. London Luton Airport is about 1,000 miles from dear old London Town, and can only be reached from real London via St Pancras.  

And what do people take with them when travelling between St Pancras and Luton?
Rucksacks as big as houses, and enormous suit cases on wheels, that's what. Sometimes people head across St Pancras with wheeled suitcases so large, the handle's in London and the back wheels are still in Surrey. They're a menace to all in their vicinity - blocking the way, occupying more space than Noah's Whale, tripping you up - frankly, if it weren't for wheeled suitcases, St Pancras could be half the size.

And then there's the giant rucksacks. Rucksacks so large that, if their owners ever tripped over, they'd lay on their backs, squirming like woodlice, and no more able to regain their feet than upturned tortoises. I've seen a Dutch backpacker turn round rapidly, and knock a bunch of pensioners on a shopping trip to Oxford Street halfway up to Holloway.

So the Luggage - forget the walking through walls and ferocious teeth. All it needs is robotic, insectoid legs - which can be done - the ability to sense obstacles and go round them - like a robotic vacuum cleaner - a bluetooth device that is paired to its owner's smartphone - and you're there.

With the legs and the detecting ability, it could cope with escalators, follow its owner onto lifts, and take itself off to the hold on planes. You could tell it to "stay" outside Marks & Sparks while you picked up a quick G&T before a long journey, it could dodge other Luggages and tourists - basically, the thing would save everybody a ton of time and aggravation at every mainline station and airport in the country.

And I say bluetooth communications. For short distance, yes. But obviously, the ability to read its owner's location off from his/her smartphone's GPS location or the mobile phone network would be even better. Just imagine. You could be in the middle of an office emergency, realise it was gonna require an all-night stayover for reasons of being handy for work in the morning, summon the Luggage and - within just a few short hours - it could have made its way all the way from Luton or wherever to the City.

Before you know it, now some inventor is going to pick the idea up, there's gonna be Luggages all over the place - heading off to the shops for us, running alongside their owners' bikes, maybe even with their owners sitting on them as they head off on the way to New Street Station - it can get awful tiring, wandering round Birmingham.

Convenient, friendly, agile, and above all completely achievable. The Luggage. Coming to a railway station near you, soon.

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