Fastlane

April 21, 2014

Earth Week Guest Post: One Possible Vision of Our Urban Transportation Future

For Earth Week, we are running guest posts from a number of influential companies and individuals in sustainability. Today's post is written by RP Siegel, writer, author, and inventor.

When we think about the future of transportation, particularly in cities, which is where more and more people are going to be living, there are two trends that seem dominant. The first is the movement towards more sustainable and energy efficient modes of transportation, and the second is the ever-increasing rate of technological sophistication.

Along the lines of the first trend, we might expect to see more people walking, biking and taking public transportation, occasionally supplemented with an on-demand rental of something resembling a car. But given America’s longstanding love affair with the automobile, which has now spread to the rest of the world, is it possible that we will ever entirely give up the freedom, the autonomy, and the sense of power the driving an automobile can give us?

Here, is where the two trends could potentially converge. As motor vehicles become increasingly electrified, and as our sources of electricity become increasingly clean and renewable, concerns of peak fuel production and greenhouse gas emissions will begin to ease. These, unfortunately, will be replaced by other concerns such as crowded streets and parking, which is already a huge problem in many cities.

But mankind’s capacity for innovation is tireless, and it’s entirely possible that solutions for these challenges can be found as well.

Already, cars are getting much smaller. Enough so, that at some point two, or three, or maybe even five cars will be able to fit in a parking spot used by one car today. That should help. But what about those traffic jams? They are bound to get far worse as our population increases.

Then if we combine high speed wireless capability with drive-by-wire, you could have a swarm of autonomously controlled vehicles moving down the road in perfect synchrony.

Picture a school of fish, or perhaps, a little more pragmatically, a train. There would be none of the accumulated delays as the reaction times of hundreds of drivers responded to a single set of brake lights, because everyone would be literally, on the same page.

Research has shown that the major cause of these kinds of ripple-effect slowdowns is human error.

Does this kind of vehicle sound like something in the far-off future?

Think again.

GM demonstrated just such a car at the Shanghai World Expo way back in 2010 and again at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Called the EN-V, these are only concept cars. It will be some years, before the world is ready for them, given the challenges of having them co-exist with ordinary cars on today’s roads.

But the future I have just described is not nearly as far off as you might have thought.

What are you doing to get ready for tomorrow’s sustainable world?

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rpsmall

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His publications include business and technical articles as well as three books. His third, co-authored with Roger Saillant, is Vapor Trails, an adventure novel about sustainability.

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