In my Singularity’s Children books, huge Sky Whales and floating party dirigibles use electrohydrodynamic (EHD) thrusters to generate lift and thrust. I imagine these a silent and ethereal, a near-future alternative to anti-gravity.
The tech is not pure ScFi, there are already ion-drives operating in space, but their use for atmospheric propulsion is still a way off.
A bit of background: Jet engines create thrust by burning vaporized fuel in compressed air. The combustion creates a controlled explosion which drives air out the back generating thrust to push the aircraft forward, while also turning the intake compressor to grab up more air.
Magneto-Plasma thrusters, on the other hand, use electricity to produce an ionized gas (plasma) and accelerate it with electric or magnetic fields up to extreme velocities. They frugally create thrust from a small amount of propellant traveling very fast.
These super-efficient engines are currently confined to vacuum, e.g. station keeping satellites or propelling interplanetary probes, but I was super interested to read that the first atmospheric, air-breathing, magneto-plasma jet engine has been successfully prototyped.
The European Space Agency has just demoed similar technology for operating at the edges of the atmosphere, sucking in and ionizing air rather than carrying propellant.
As I have mentioned before, writing near-future SciFi is a real race against reality!!
I write about a lot of near-future tech in my Singularity’s Children books. One example are the Spex, a combination of neural interface and augmented reality (AR) head-up-display.
To get an idea what it will look like from the inside, check out this over-the-top; but probably—sadly—all too accurate video from Keiichi Matsuda.
I believe AR is going to be huge, but will only really take off when combined with at least enough neural interfacing to extract sub-vocalized speech from the brain (or perhaps from nerves in the throat). Nobody is going to want to wander around in public mumbling to Alexa or Siri and risking eavesdropping!
Of course, it’s only a short step from extracting superficial speech to full on brain-to-brain communication; aka telepathy.
And if this sounds a bit futuristic, there are already scientist able to extract and reconstruct the images the subjects are observing.
Recording dreams is coming! How crazy is that?!
For more, even more, if you have a spare half hour, check out this super interesting interview with Mary Lou Jepsen on Rod Reid’s ‘After On’ podcast.