Category Archives: transport

Carbon foam balloon as military platform

In my sci-fi book, the Carballoon is a huge carbon balloon made mainly from graphene foam. (In a nutshell, graphene foam is made up of tiny graphene spheres with a vacuum inside to give an average density lower than helium.)

It has many civilian uses as described there, but is also useful militarily. 

Some of the smaller balloons that it can send out would have reconnaissance or espionage functions. Some would have weapon systems on board, and having variable buoyancy, could sneak into an area at high altitude unnoticed before descending and bringing death from above. They could occupy some of the roles occupied by today’s drones, so would likely be covered by similar legislation.

Subject to that legislation, weaponry could include guns, directed energy or particle beam weapons, and graphene dart swarms, as well as missiles and bombs. These weapons would potentially scale with balloon size so that the mothership Car-Balloon would be very powerful.

The main advantage balloons convey is range and duration. They could stay afloat permanently without consuming power. They could sit stealthily for long periods on standby before being woken up to come into action. In fact, all the time they are afloat, the solar cells on the upper sections could accumulate energy and store it in graphene super-capacitors, to be released as required.

Graphene foam would be a very low density solid, so it would not fall if punctured. The pieces would stay afloat even if it were broken up. Self-organisation and assembly functionality could be distributed throughout the foam to allow pieces to come back together, and thus enable continuous self-repair.


Lighter-than-helium carbon foam – how it works

I just did a back-of-the-envelope calculation to work out what size of sphere containing a vacuum would give the same average density as helium at room temperature, if the sphere is made of graphene, the new one-size-does-everything-you-can-imagine wonder material.

Why? Well, the Yanks have just prototyped a big airship and it uses helium for buoyancy.–new-type-rigid-airship-thats-set-revolutionise-haulage-tourism–warfare.html

Helium weighs 0.164kg per cubic meter. Graphene sheet weighs only 0.77mg per square meter. Mind you, the data source was Wikipedia so don’t start a business based on this without checking! If you could make a sphere out of a single layer of graphene, and have a vacuum inside (graphene is allegedly impervious to gas) it would become less dense than helium at sizes above 0.014mm. Wow! That’s very small. I expected ping pong ball sizes when I started and knew that would never work because large thin spheres would be likely to collapse. 14 micron spheres are too small to see with the naked eye, not much bigger than skin cells, maybe they would work OK.

Confession time now. I have no idea whether a single layer of graphene is absolutely impervious to gas, it says so on some websites but it says a lot of things on some websites that are total nonsense.

The obvious downside even if it could work is that graphene is still very expensive, but everything is when is starts off. Imagine how much you could sell a plastic cup for to an Egyptian Pharaoh.

Helium is an endangered resource. We use it for party balloons and then it goes into the atmosphere and from there leaks into space. It is hard to replace, at least for the next few decades. If we could use common elements like carbon as a substitute that would be good news. Getting the cost of production down is just engineering and people are good at that when there is an incentive.

So in the future, maybe we could fill party balloons and blimps with graphene foam. You could make huge airships happily with it, that don’t need helium of hydrogen.

Tiny particles that size readily behave as a fluid and can easily be pumped. You could make lighter-than-air building materials for ultra-tall skyscrapers, launch platforms, floating Avatar-style sky islands and so on.

You could also make small clusters of them to carry tiny payloads for espionage or terrorism. Floating invisibly tiny particles of clever electronics around has good and bad uses. You could distribute explosives with floating particles that congeal into whatever shape you want on whatever target you want using self-organisation and liberal use of EM fields. I don’t even have that sort of stuff on Halo. I’d better stop now before I start laughing evilly and muttering about taking over the world.

Carbon foam can be adjusted to be soft and malleable or hard and rigid. It can be used to make balloons for transporting freight or people, just like airships, and for some of the same military uses. Foam balloons will show a multitude of uses.

Military hoverboards and hovercars

The basic design principles are outlined in, recently updated

The article also describes in passing how weak force fields could be realized. I’ll look at this more in future posts.

Militarising them is pretty obvious. Thicker and stronger materials for general shielding, reactive armour, faster engines, more maneuverability etc are all easy to engineer in. I’ll consider approaches to building reactive armor separately. For military use, comms, identification, encryption and so on are also essential but routine approaches to these would be fine.

Adding weaponry and surveillance capability is also easy, but different weapons and sensor capabilities deserve their own articles.

Adding invisibility to a hoverboard is not easy, and would be pretty pointless if the invisibility doesn’t also extend to the rider, but stealth for the car can certainly be optimized. The surface coating can act as a video display, so routine invisibility techniques would work – cameras on one side feeding display on the opposite side. This won’t make the car invisible, but it could make it less conspicuous. Similarly, straightforward camouflage based on surroundings could be implemented using surface-covering displays, without the need for extensive real-time camera links.

Mechanically, force fields would be far weaker than carbon materials, so they would only have military applications for disrupting electromagnetic attacks. They could have more use at high altitudes to help deflect radiation.