If you’re going to be an urban survivor, you are going to have to “keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.”

Since 1997, we have been “calling it like we see it” when comes to market, tech, and futuring.  We’ve used all kinds of tools to get there, but when comes right down to it, the best “Future Detector” there is has already been installed between your ears.  The problem is that few people take the time to update their personal operating systems (uploading new knowledge) to deal with new information that moves the future around.

So this morning, a short survival course on  how to realistically assess the future.

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We raised a very interesting notion in the Peoplenomics.com report for subscribers Wednesday:  “Will AI Kill Markets?”

This is not idle speculation, as indeed, the process is already underway and has been since the 1990’s.

If you’re a young investor (like our reader Millennial Caller, for instance) you may not be old enough to remember ‘back in the day’ when the NYSE published program trading statistics.

When I first started watching the markets, the program trading was less than 10% of NYSE volume.  But since rudimentary (Big Data) AI is a feedstock of quantitative analysis, we can rest semi-assured that the investment question is quite real.

On the other hand, great promoter’s pronouncements about the danger of AI may be overblown a bit.  I’m talking here of people like Gates and Musk and all the others who are worried that AI will eat our lunch.

These people need to get out more.  One of the reminders that slapped us ‘upside the head’ coming back through the Amish enclave in Oklahoma Sunday was that there are humans who not only still get along without two cellphones and the latest Apple whizzies, but they also get along largely without petroleum.

Yes, there is a lifestyle shared, in many regards, by both Native Americans and Amish that has an incredibly low footprint in terms of energy and resource, but also has very little chance of failure.  Why?  Simply: They know where the off-switch is.

Oilman2 posted a note (with link) in one of the comments yesterday about how grid use is now about 2% colocation centers.

In a conversation, later in the morning, we got to musing about how much co-lo space would be needed to field a national fleet of any size autonomous vehicles.

As he explained it: “Sure, you can get most of the routines onto the onboard systems, but when things get hairy you’re going to need that back-link to moma…and the big database….”  There’s no doubt some truth to that.

But that does raise the question how autonomous vehicles will need continuous internet access, or have a very large computer onboard.  And the tradeoff there will be fuel economy offsets.  Computers will eat between one and two horsepower (745-watts to 1,490 watts) and that will be continuously, not pulsed. Serious processor, cooling, storage and associated peripherals including some old-fashioned linear actuators in most designs.

The idea that “drone swarms” and “drone delivery systems” will put humans out of the mix is about equally absurd.  Again, in the short term.

The problem isn’t that drones can’t carry weight…sure they can.  But we need to be very precise on  our thinking here.  Remember, convertible cars that could be both streetable as well as flyable have been conceptualized for 60-years.  Check out this Wikipedia snip:

“In 1956, the US Army’s Transportation Research Command began an investigation into “flying jeeps”, ducted-fan-based aircraft that were envisioned to be smaller and easier to fly than helicopters. In 1957, Chrysler, Curtiss-Wright, and Piasecki were assigned contracts for building and delivery of prototypes. They all delivered their prototypes; however, Piasecki’s VZ-8 was the most successful of the three. While it would normally operate close to the ground, it was capable of flying to several thousand feet, proving to be stable in flight. Nonetheless, the Army decided that the “Flying Jeep concept [was] unsuitable for the modern battlefield”, and concentrated on the development of conventional helicopters. In addition to the army contract, Piasecki was developing the Sky Car, a modified version of its VZ-8 for civilian use.”

Sounds to me a lot like drones.

The problem is people don’t sit back and think through the logical application of three sets of laws.  In the case of drones or autonomous vehicle, you have the laws of physics, the laws of electrochemistry and the laws of economics.  What’s more, there is also this ugly thing called “The Use Case.”

Let’s take the notion that Drones will end UPS and FedEx delivery driving.

Not so fast!

Let’s consider a helicopter – like the Bell 206 JetRanger.  We only need a few numbers here to start scaling our thinking in terms of payload.

Lift efficiency is related to swept area of the rotor.  In the case of the JetRanger, the rotor diameter is 33-feet 4-inches.

Next we will consider horsepower.  317 shaft horsepower was the limit due to the powertrain design.

Then we have empty weight and maximum gross takeoff weight.

2,000 pounds empty,  with 3,200 pounds full (four passengers, pilot, fuel, and oil).

From here we can work the numbers as follows.

3200 pounds and 317 horsepower or about 10-pounds per horsepower.

When you back out the pilot weight (170 pounds) you’re talking about 402 pounds of usable load (cargo, passengers, etc at full fuel)  You can add capacity by dumping as much of the 91 gallons of fuel (618 pounds worth) as you want.  Hell, throw out the 170 pound pilot, while you’re at it.

We need to begin thinking about the 10 pound typical delivery package now.

We can already see the basics coming into focus:  A drone that could handle a 10 pound package would likely weigh a minimum of 30 pounds.  And since the rotor loading number is ab out 4 pounds per square foot of swept area, we would assume our single-rotor drone would need (rounding) 30-square feet of swept area.

So how about area divided by pi equals r-square?  That would be 9.6 for r-square (roughly – I don’t design things before more coffee, usually) or about a 3.1 foot swept area.

OK, making progress.

Now we need to think about our fuel source.  The JetRanger burns about 30 gallons per hour holding things up against the ‘will of gravity.’  Since we know the JetRanger does 10 pounds per horsepower, our drone will likely be similar – so we need a 3-horsepower source for whatever our flight time is.

Here’s where we see OM2’s point about energy density makes drones a fine scam but hardly practical.  Reason?

Here’s the power density of Jet A: 43.15 MJ/kg.

Now the power density of a good lithium ion battery: 0.36–0.875 MJ/kg.

Simply:  Jet-A is 49-times more power dense than a Lithium Ion battery.

By extension then, we can fly a jet-powered drone an hour on 3/10-ths of a gallon of Jet-A.  But the same platform on batteries?  Maybe five minutes with equal load.

And here’s another thing:  Batteries don’t charge in a linear fashion.  Trust me when I tell you this – I have worked on serious battery instrumentation issues (see Google results):  Battery quick-charging is an evolving art, especially with new chemistries.

Moreover, there is another problem with lithium ion, but you need to visit some sites like Cadex’s Battery University site over here.  When you scroll down to the cycling performance of Lion batteries, there is yet-another problem that drone promoters don’t mention.

The faster and deeper you discharge any battery, the fewer number of cycles it will deliver.

As the Cadex chart shows (they’re smart on this stuff): The lithium ion test battery lost about 25% of its rated capacity at 500 cycles.

In other words, put this drone we’re designing on a UPS delivery rig.  Deliver one 10 pound box and then it’s battery change time.  Maybe you could get 8 cycles per day on  a battery pack for a drone.  Cool, right?

But here’s where cycle life bits you on the ass:  At the end of a month and a half of service, the lithium batteries would still work, but now you’re down to a 7.5 pound box, or so, or it’s time to buy a butt-load of batteries.

And we haven’t even gotten into heat and cycling and how drones would work in places like Denver on a hot day where density altitude degrade lift quickly and where summertime cooling of an 8-10 battery rack on a UPS van (which aren’t now air conditioned) would also degrade performance.

You really think delivery companies that wouldn’t put in a/c for their drivers will do it for their drones?

Above all, though, this gets us circled back to the laws of Economics.

We are living today in a world most of us never thought we would see:  We’re making business models out of fishing, camping, gender, r/c airplanes, computer programming, and a host of other activities that are, mostly, non-essential.

And this underscores the main problem we see for the world:  We live under economic systems that reward people for participation, even if the participation doesn’t make a lot of sense.  And that’s worrisome.

How long can this track persist and still drive markets to new all-time highs?

It’s a bunch to wrap your head around, but likely worth doing so while you still have what pilots call “airspeed, altitude, and ideas…”

Write when you get rich,

George@ure.net

Waxing My Crystal Balls (...ahem...)
Will AI Kill Financial Markets?