Floating vehicles that use some kind of techno-magic anti-gravity system have been a staple of science fiction for decades and decades. There’s very little that screams “THE FUTURE” like a massive thing that just hovers in the air. And yet, despite all the many and varied depictions of anti-gravity vehicles in movies and television, none of them seems to have seen fit to include a detail about anti-gravity vehicles that I think would be unavoidable.
Of course, anti-gravity anything is all fictional. I know that. But, once you start thinking about how something like an anti-gravity-supported vehicle might work, it’s hard to not arrive at the conclusion I have: they’d be really messy.
Let’s look at what may be the most popular example of an anti-gravity vehicle in popular culture: Luke Skywalker’s X-34 landspeeder, or, really, any of the landspeeders in the Star Wars universe.
Landspeeders are said to work via “repulsorlifts,” which seems to be what anti-gravity units are called in the Star Wars universe. You can tell it’s not some sort of hovercraft/air cushion kind of thing because the air under the landspeeder is calm, undisturbed.
The issue I have is that I don’t think the area under an anti-gravity vehicle would be so still, especially on a sandy surface like we see on Tatooine, there.
Here’s what I’m thinking: if we can assume that an anti-gravity vehicle would work by creating an area directly under it of reduced gravity, like this
...which would prevent the vehicle itself from being drawn to the ground via gravitational pull, wouldn’t then that mean that anything inside of that zone of gravity reduction would be similarly affected?
Now, I should mention that our Editor-In-Pants Rory Somebody claims he always thought the anti-gravity machines just cancelled the effects of gravity for that one particular object, which, since this is all fiction anyway, could be.
However, I feel like I’ve heard the term “anti-gravity emitters” often enough in sci-fi stuff that, in my mind, I always thought of anti-gravity tech as being something that actually emitted some sort of gravity nullification field, which is what this article presupposes.
Maybe Rory’s right? Again, it’s fiction, and I already made these drawings, so I’m going to assume anti-gravity works via emitting an anti-gravity field of some sort.
And if that’s the case, wouldn’t there be a constant, gentle flow of air up and around the vehicle, as air molecules, free from gravitational bonds, rose up and out of the field, then to be re-captured by gravity and flow back down, in a sort of wave-like loop?
And wouldn’t it also mean that objects and particles directly under the anti-grav emitters be freed from gravity’s surly bonds as well? Wouldn’t that mean that underneath any anti-grav vehicle there would be a gently circulating mass of random detrius and crap?
I don’t see how you could avoid this. Plus, as the vehicle moved, the mass of gravity-unburdened air under the vehicle would likely serve as a sort of curtain to pull along all of that crap, all sorts of litter and dirt and pebbles and space-cigarette butts and death stick wrappers and dead alien-bugs and who the hell knows what else?
Some of that crap would likely float up and get caught up in the underside of the vehicle, where it would remain until the hover-vehicle finally stopped and turned off its power, possibly deploying some landing legs and, as the anti-grav emitters power down, raining down a noisy and messy array of all the crap it had accumulated throughout its drive:
Parking lots for anti-grav vehicles would be an absolute mess, and require constant cleaning. Actually, I bet a sort of mesh floor would be best, so that the vehicles could land on them and let all the crap drop down through some floor grid into catch-dumpsters or whatever.
I can only think of one sci-fi property where anything like this was really depicted: Neill Blomkamp’s District 9.
In this scene near the end of the movie, a tractor-type beam (which may or may not use some kind of anti-gravity tech) is seen lifting an object, and, along with it, a lot of rocks and dirt and other little debris.
I’ve cued it up to the right time for you here:
See what I’m getting at? I think the distance between the underside of an anti-grav vehicle and the ground would look a lot like that effect.
Even though so far this sloppy side-effect of anti-gravity vehicles hasn’t otherwise been shown on-screen (that I know of—if I’m missing something, please, let me know in the comments!) that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.
Sci-fi fillmakers and artists and whoever, if you’re planning on producing some content with anti-gravity-based vehicles, please at least consider adding a scene that shows all of the messy cleanup and the noisy clatter that would be associated with one of these magical machines.
Trust me, it’ll really add to the world-building, or something.