Tag Archives: airport

Straggling Links…

Some links I’ve had piling up to share for awhile…

The Automotive Future

It seems that, as of late, the automobile has gained a reputation as being a form of transportation we must surpass. The automobile isn’t fuel efficient on a per person basis compared to other modes and therefore tends to get viewed as wasteful. However, the level of freedom that the automobile gives to individuals is unsurpassed by any other form of transportation and for that reason I think future transportation developments will center on the automobile.

Virginia Postrel has a great article on the work being done in Silicon Valley to create “robocars” that drive themselves:

Now it finally seems to be happening. Google Inc.’s self- driving cars have covered more than 300,000 miles, most recently wowing the Texas Transportation Forum with a demonstration on the streets of Austin. “The remarkable thing was that it was a little unremarkable,” Coby Chase, director of the Texas Department of Transportation’s government and public affairs division, told the Dallas Morning News after his ride.

This is the right direction. At least it’s a better direction than pushing cycling, mass transit, and rail. These alternative modes of transportation are fine for some functions but simply do not offer the freedom of mobility that is necessary for people functioning in our economy today.

One comment made in the story by Brad Templeton gives an idea of where Google and others are going with robocars:

Today’s experiments, by contrast, put the smarts in the car itself. “The first rule of robocars is you do not change the infrastructure,” Templeton reminds a Singularity audience member who inquires about smart highways.

I do think that making the cars smart and not the infrastructure is the way to go. However, I also think there are some basic infrastructure improvements that can be made that will allow the robocars to truly optimize their function.

I imagine our automobile transportation system will look very similar to that shown in films like iRobot and Minority Report (coincidentally both Spielberg films). In these films the automobile was controlled by the driver until he ventured into a main thoroughfare/highway that had numerous other automobiles moving at high rates of speed. From there the car took over. The cars, now functioning as robocars on these highways, optimized safety and efficiency and speed was greatly increased. Imagine all the freedom of an automobile in terms of individual autonomy but with a lower risk of accident and shorter travel times… that is where we are going.

Our current interstate highways could easily be retrofitted with inert objects in the lanes, below the pavement, that the robocars would use for guidance. These would be “dumb” improvements but would give the robocars so much more to work with in terms of lane alignment. In addition, we’d have to guard the interstate right-of-ways from incursion far more carefully than we do today.

I think that stop-and-go city driving and residential neighborhood driving offer far too many variables to hand over the car to a computer. A human can identify the “child playing basketball in the yard adjacent to the street” scenario as a reason for caution in a way the computer can not… unless I’m drastically underestimating what the computers can do.

Not-So-Green Cars

The Wall Street Journal has a great article on the environmental impacts of green cars.

A 2012 comprehensive life-cycle analysis in Journal of Industrial Ecology shows that almost half the lifetime carbon-dioxide emissions from an electric car come from the energy used to produce the car, especially the battery. The mining of lithium, for instance, is a less than green activity. By contrast, the manufacture of a gas-powered car accounts for 17% of its lifetime carbon-dioxide emissions.

Read the whole piece.

Remember the whole “Cash for Clunkers” fiasco a few years back… where the government gave people money to get their old cars off the road. Couple that policy with the government subsidies for electric cars and you’ve actually got a situation where the government is funding an overall bigger carbon footprint. The government is notorious for missing these kinds of unintended consequences.

In 2006, as gas prices were rising, the daily drive to work in my 4×4 Toyota was hurting the pocketbook with each fill up. I started looking around for an old Honda Civic to make my daily commute in. I bought a 1987 Honda Civic that consistently got around 38 miles-per-gallon. I paid $900. I was very cognizant of the fact that I was reducing my fuel consumption, keeping an older car on the road, and being far less wasteful. That was a far better stewardship of resources than anyone buying a brand-new Tesla.

We’ve got to start looking at the whole picture.

MLK and the Automobile

I keep meaning to link to this thoughtful post from way back in January (Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday).

The private car is unpopular these days. When it isn’t blamed for congestion, it’s blamed for pollution. And, invariably, the proposed solutions are restrictions on driving, increased taxes for public transit and other punitive programs or regulations.

But the trouble with seeing driving as the enemy is that it’s too easy to lose sight of its benefits.

Driving is a liberating technology, and we ought to recognize this, especially as we approach Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

A correlation I would never have thought about.