The future of transportation in autonomous communities

Transportation & Planning:

Today communities require extensive planning, costly infrastructure, and most often more consideration to accommodating automobiles than people. Even with the great deal of attention we give to developing these communities, there is still considerable wasted land and inefficiency inherent in most designs. Much of the problem lies in the concept of segregating residential from needed products and services, schools, libraries, entertainment, and so on. Communities are designed that require mobility to survive.

In Silent Wave, I first explored the concept of Wavecraft (vehicles that levitate). Although I see this as the ultimate solution, the technology may never be invented. Wishful thinking isn’t going to get us there.

The fact is, people love the freedom to go at will. Too often, walking or saddling up the horse won’t do for most people, thus the need for other modes of transportation. Considering the cost of owning an automobile and the impact on the ecosystem, wouldn’t it be nice to have some alternatives. One alternative that can have a huge impact is to have less need to commute.

If you are like me, you live in a subdivision. Most people do, and because of this trend, reinventing subdivisions in future autonomous communities to include all you require on a daily basis could significantly reduce our need for transportation. But the fact remains that personal transportation is not viewed as a luxury, but as a necessity. If we don’t reverse some trends, one-day personal transportation may become far too expensive for the masses.

The question is, where are we headed? With the impending meltdown of world economies, it is clear that at least in the United States that General Motors, Ford Motor Company, and Chrysler Corporation have been extremely short sighted. With all three manufactures struggling in a world market, it is a sure indicator that management has not only made poor choices under the threats of the UAW in dealing with labor and their commitments to benefits and pensions, but that they have also been myopic in their assessment of what will sell, and these are the guys with their golden parachutes and private jets that flew to Washington with their hands out when General Motors faced bankruptcy.

The fact of the matter is that the average Joe doesn’t need a pickup truck that’s two car lengths long that gets 10 miles per gallon, and has the pulling capacity to move a freight train. The average soccer mom doesn’t need an SUV bus to transport the entire team. All you have to do is watch the roads and drive down the interstates, and vehicle after vehicle you see meets these descriptions, and most have a single occupant.

Once again, we can thank part of this trend to Congress, who in their unending wisdom have given huge tax rebates to the people who drive such monstrosities. And what do you hear from the owners of such monstrosities as justification? Safety????? Isn’t it nice to know that people are willing to drive tanks so that they can kill the other guy in case they are involved in an accident? Where’s the logic? First, the likelihood of being killed in an accident is quite remote, so that hardly seems like justification.

As in all things we do, there are pluses and minuses to weigh in reaching any conclusion, and one thing that is abundantly clear is that the laws of physics cannot be disputed, and that pushing large amounts of mass down the road is going to be more costly in terms of energy. I think Detroit knows that.

Be assured that car manufactures use fear tactics, as does the government, to convince us all that we should all be mindful of safety. And thus, since driving is so dangerous, it only makes sense to buy into the idea that big and massive is the solution. Additionally, big and massive costs more, so that means car companies can charge more and sell fewer units. I still remember when manufactures were trying to keep basic models under $2000.

Perhaps you’re thinking that I think safety is a bad thing? Of course not. I advocate safety in building OsumPODS, and I certainly don’t want to drive a deathtrap. But propelling huge amounts of mass down a road at 80 miles per hour isn’t the answer to safety. For argument sake, I believe that if all vehicles were approximately the same size and weight, then highways would be safer to navigate. One of the major problems today is the diverse use of highways, with a mix of cross country freighters that sometimes pull up to three trailers, to motorcyclists that feel they are entitled to take advantage of their small size and dart in and out of traffic. It’s amazing that their aren’t more fatalities than there are.

Safety aside, and the current trend of automobiles in the forefront, we have to ask just what were they thinking. This whole idea that technology can’t make electric cars viable is utter and indisputable hogwash. The reason electric cars aren’t displacing gas and diesel models, is because oil companies won’t allow it. If you haven’t watched “Who Killed the Electric Car”, do so, and I’m not saying that you should buy into every statement made in the movie. The fact is, there are drawbacks in battery technology, but had General Motors pursued the manufacture of the EV1, by now many of those problems would have been solved, and General Motors may have been looked at as the savior of the American automobile. And isn’t it amazing how they just happened to make the EV1 with considerably less appealing sheet metal. You don’t suppose they did that for a reason?

So now General Motors answer is the Volt, a car that doesn’t look all that promising, that goes a whopping 40 miles without a recharge, and costs enough more than its gasoline counterpart that it doesn’t make economic sense to make the purchase.

Although gas electrics make some sense as a stepping block, the fact is that that combo has the drawbacks of both technologies. You still have to go in for an oil change, and when the batteries do wear out you will probably opt for a new car rather than shell out the bucks for an outdated product that has depreciated to a value that it hardly makes sense to maintain.

There are of course other reasons the automotive industry hasn’t wanted to build electric cars. As a car owner, you no doubt have noticed the cost of maintenance and parts. The fact is, most gas-powered cars are prone to have some problems pop up in the first 100,000 miles, and probably major problems in the next 100,000 miles. Automobile manufacturers make money selling parts. The fact is, electric cars have fewer parts and more reliable parts, and so except for battery life, will be far less expensive to drive in both the cost of fuel and maintenance.

In the OsumPODS concept, homes will be built to produce an excess amount of energy, which can be used to power electric cars. Although you will have the initial cost of electric production and storage to amortize, there will come a day you could conceivably be driving your electric car for free. Of course, the likelihood for this prediction to be true in the next 100 years will depend upon advancements in technologies that haven’t even been explored today. So, is it worth the pursuit?

When I first read about the coming of the digital age, there were predictions that cameras wouldn’t surpass the quality of film for 50 years. The fact of the matter is it took less than 30. Had the idea been embraced in the beginning, it probably would have taken less than 20. Perhaps with a little more prodding from consumers, electric cars will do for the automobile industry what digital has done in photography.


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