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Back in the early times of my story's world, before humans had even arisen on Earth, another planet over 1,000 light years away held two civilizations of dragons. One was the traditional hexapod Western type, with four legs and two wings. The other was the Loong Empire, composed of the Eastern style of dragons, with four legs, long sinuous bodies, magic based flight, and no wings. By the time period when Earth was in the Late Pleistocene period, they had a modern society with a mix of advanced magic and early spaceflight tech.

They had a space program that made it to their planet's moon, and both flying and ground-based wheeled vehicles to haul cargo. How would a quadrupedal species build controls for their vehicles, and how would they sit?

Trying again. Perhaps this is more specific and logical.

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  • $\begingroup$ You can easily write a five-volume treatise decribing their society... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Aug 16 '20 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ Stack exchange is for specific questions. This looks more like you are giving us a writing assignment. $\endgroup$ – SurpriseDog Aug 16 '20 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ @SurpriseDog, I suppose this is way too broad. I'll probably adjust this question and try again. $\endgroup$ – Jazzyamx Aug 16 '20 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ The question directly states that their society had "early spaceflight tech". This directly implies that they had space vehicles. This also directly implies that at some of their vehicles did indeed fly. More than that cannot be said with any certainty, for the question contains nothing even remotely similar to data; and the presence of in-world magic does nothing but make speculation boundless. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Aug 16 '20 at 17:31
  • $\begingroup$ I think you edited this question. It's probably better at this time to resubmit the question, but at the very least it's more specific. Maybe a bit more about the dimensions of the dragons and we're set for this part of your larger question. $\endgroup$ – Trioxidane Aug 17 '20 at 11:27
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First, the good news... as far as seating and controls, at least for lower tech levels, wings vs. wingless probably won't make much difference.

There have been some other questions regarding seat design for species with tails or other unusual body plans before, but those were generally for bipeds.

Your real issue is that quadrupeds aren't as adept at manipulating things as bipeds. In fact, depending on how they move, they may have very limited sideways mobility of the forelimbs compared to humans, which suggests that human-style steering wheels are not going to be usable. They may still develop rack-and-pinion steering, but they will likely need more gear linkages. The best I can envision offhand is a sort of bicycle-like crank operated with one forepaw. The other foreleg is going to be needed to operate the throttle and brakes, but fortunately these don't need to change as much from human design. Note that this means that power steering (and later, steer-by-wire) is going to be really important. In fact, steer-by-wire may cause a complete redesign of vehicle controls.

But let's skip ahead to seating for a moment. The simple solution is that they sit on their haunches like many quadrupeds do, and lean forward on something so that their forelimbs can be used for manipulation rather than keeping themselves upright. This will become especially important when crash mitigation starts to matter, although there's a little unexpected bonus here; being supported in the direction of forces is preferable. If not for the little niggling issue of wanting to see where we're going, we humans would actually be safer in rear-facing seats.

However, this only gives them use of two limbs, and in the early days of slow vehicles (and before suspension is developed!), I suspect they might actually prefer to hang from suspended harnesses. With some sort of elastic material, the "seat" can be cushioned against a rough ride even if the vehicle as a whole isn't. This would allow them to also use their hind legs to control the vehicle.

Fast forwarding to "modern" day, I can imagine something like this: A dragon walks up to his vehicle and the automatic door opens when he taps a sensor on the running board (or waves his paw under such a sensor). He climbs in head first and rears up in order to settle himself on the mostly upright couch, which supports him at the waist, sternum, and under his haunches. (More support is better, but his chest needs some room to expand when he breathes.) Automated restraints wrap over his back (because he can't reach!) to secure him in place for safety. His hind paws locate control pedals while he places his fore paws on the steering yoke. He moves one foreleg sideways a bit to press the starter button, then puts the paw on the adjacent shifter and shifts to 'drive'. A press with a hind paw on the throttle starts the vehicle moving, and a gentle pressure on the steering yoke causes it to turn.

You could swap the steering and throttle/brakes (more like an airplane); the key points are:

  • His body is supported in a way that lets him use all four legs to control the vehicle.
  • The seat needs to blend support against gravity with support in case of an accident. A horizontal seat is more comfortable, but all the forces in an impact will be transmitted to the shoulders. A vertical seat is best in an accident, but needs to support the occupant's thighs (much like a human chair does). At least for vehicles, think of their seats working like a human sitting on a chair backwards.
  • The steering is almost surely steer-by-wire, requiring only minimal movement. (For a yoke, I'd guess no more than ±45°, if that.) You could use either set of limbs for this, or even the tail. (Using the tail would be much harder before steer-by-wire is developed, but afterward, would be a really cool and probably more natural way to control a vehicle. This might leave their forepaws entirely free to work other controls.)
  • Auxiliary controls need to be in easy reach. Remember, depending how you design them, quadrupeds may not be able to reach behind themselves or to the sides very easily, if at all.

Once you do have all-electronic controls, you have the possibility of using the wings as an additional means of control. The issues here are that wings may be delicate (best in an accident if they are tucked in rather than extended) and figuring out how to build an interface for them may be tricky. (Plus, only half your dragons could use such controls.)

One caveat: I think their bicycles would have to be something of a cross between bicycle and skateboard, i.e. the front steering mechanism also needs to be load-bearing. Alternatively, the might have vehicles that are more like open-framed cars, in which the rider is suspended.

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Whatever you want

The question is actually a bit to broad, so I'll answer broadly. It can be whatever you want. Why? Because of culture.

Lets look at vehicles. During the "wild west" period of America, they expanded a lot with trains. They were a point of pride, economic wealth and simply needed for fast transport.

Nowadays trains are shunned in America. The culture shift thanks to much advertising and lobbying of the automotive industry has changed the perception on trains, leading even to train transport project being actively worked against. This is different in many other countries, where trains are lifted to an art and a big part of everyday life (Japan, Netherlands).

These kinds of things are in every culture on every level. Food? Potatoes started as a luxury food, became a thing for the low born, became a luxury food again to turn back to common food. Jobs? Even within one culture some managers are seen as necessary and others are seen as superfluous money grabbers.

The fact is that if you move 50km you can come somewhere different. This will open up so many possibilities that your question isn't really possible to answer. It'll be opinion based.

I would set more specific boundaries. A "western society based on Germany with V2 experimental rockets (intended for space flight by the inventor)" would give much better boundaries of the technological side of things. In addition, a bit of knowledge of the magic involved could help with the magic transport and such.

Besides this giving us clear boundaries where we can give good answers, it'll still give you control of much of the answer. That way it'll be much more what you desire.

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