Friday, September 25, 2009

On the Future of Cars

Like most of the people reading this, I grew up imagining the future would be filled with flying cars. I imagined that by the time I was a grown up I'd be dropping off my wife Jane and daughter Judy at the mall and school respectively in my nifty little flying car. While that dream is not a reality, there's good news: better dreams will probably come true soon.

I see two keys to the future of automobiles. The first is the one everyone is talking about right now, the propulsion system. Gas power (though I love the feel of a good race car under my foot) will be extinct in 50 years. The only question is what will replace it. Some say ethanol, some say fuel cells, I say that there's a reason forward thinking investment firms keep dumping money in Tesla Motors. The key to Tesla's success (assuming it does not drop the ball) will be that it is an electric car rather then an alternative fuel car. Why solve the fossil fuel problem twice (once for powering our homes/offices and once for powering our cars)? Since battery cars are capable of so much (The Tesla Roadster beats my 350Z to 60, soundly), why not figure out how to make nuclear fission, hydro, solar, clean coal or whatever clean power a success and then stick that clean energy in my car? If ethanol is so great, let's build ethanol power plants.

The second key to the future of automobiles is the way they are operated. If 10 people get on the highway to drive to Pittsburgh from Charlotte (a trip I'm making this evening), why on earth should they each be responsible for navigating themselves? From a conceptual, utilitarian perspective it makes NO sense. What we need is a smart highway. What if the highway knew where I was going? What if it could put me in a group of cars headed to a similar place, lock me at the same pace as those cars (only inches from them) and have us all slam the pedal to the medal? This would let me take a little nap (which I desperately need) and wake me up when we're in the Fort Pitt Tunnels so I can take it the rest of the way. This change in the way we drive is coming from closer then you might think, CMU is working on exactly such a system.

Just something to think about this Friday evening. Get out, enjoy your favorite protest. Virginia (how wierd is it to type PittGirl's name out?) already highlighted my favorite (see point 2)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm all about the "wake me when we get there" car! In general, it seems that transportation in the U.S. hasn't improved much in the last 50 years. Most of the advance has been in amenities (cup holders, seat warmers, air bags, and CD players). Where are the bullet trains? Where is that jet pack James Bond was using? Aren't we supposed to have flying cars by now? Who do I see about this?