January 8, 2010

The next big things

I was interviewed by the Jim Foti of the Strib last month for their beginning of the decade article The next big things

My bit below:

COMMUTING New light-rail lines, many more MnPass lanes and cars that make driving decisions for you are in the commuting forecast for the next decade, says David Levinson, a civil engineering professor at the University of Minnesota.

Congestion levels won't change much, he said. The Twin Cities area will have more residents, but the aging population will be working less, and increased telecommuting will mean that people won't go into work as often.

The Southwest and Central Corridor rail lines are scheduled to start mid-decade, and one or two Minneapolis streetcar lines could be in the mix. Levinson expects highway expansion to mainly take the form of new MnPass lanes, which are for carpools, buses, motorcycles and toll-paying solo drivers.

He sees plug-in hybrids as the dominant car, meaning drivers will be buying less gas, so a per-mile fee will be implemented to replace lost tax revenue. Cars will keep getting safer, he said, with features such as automatic emergency braking and cruise control that adapts to the speed of surrounding traffic.


Sustainable Immobility

Link from Bruce Sterling: ElectroSmog:
International Festival for Sustainable Immobility

From the site:

"ElectroSmog is a new festival that explores the concept 'Sustainable Immobility' in theory and practice. Sustainable Immobility is first of all a critique of the growing global crisis of mobility. Current forms of hyper-mobility of people and products in travel and transport are ecologically increasingly unsustainable. The will to slow down, however, seems thoroughly absent. The economic crisis may have temporarily slowed matters down, long term projections still point towards exponential growth of worldwide mobility and exploding energy needs. Alternatives for the current state of hyper-mobility need to be designed urgently."

This group dislikes hyper-mobility, arguing it is unsustainable. Yet, isn't life unsustainable? Doesn't astro-physics tell us the sun will immolate the earth?

If this group's radicalism is really to take root, at the extreme, we should all be trees - giving us sustainable (for everyone else) hyper-immobility.

Anyway, I look forward to local food every winter in Minnesota. Some bark or snow anyone?

October 8, 2009

Schools of cars

From CNET Nissan's robot cars mimic fish to avoid crashing

Okay, they are still quite small, but a nice proof of concept.

September 26, 2009

Honda's U3-X Personal Mobility Device is the Segway of unicycles

From Engadget (h/t Kurzweil): Honda's U3-X Personal Mobility Device is the Segway of unicycles

July 13, 2009

'E-Rockit' hits German fast lane

From BBC 'E-Rockit' hits German fast lane. An electric motorbike you pedal up to 50 mph (80 km/h). The end of the video shows them using this on a German freeway. Not wise I suspect.

February 17, 2009

Cloudy With a Chance of Satellite

From Memestreams Cloudy With a Chance of Satellite

1145 PM EST FRI FEB 13 2009



(h/t to CV)

From last week:

For decades, space experts have warned of orbits around the planet growing so crowded that two satellites might one day slam into one another, producing swarms of treacherous debris.

It happened Tuesday.

October 18, 2008

The Future of Driving

On Ars Technica: The Future of Driving, Part I: Robots and Grand Challenges

Part 2: Life After Driving

August 23, 2008

Cloud Commuting

Once upon a time, people kept their life savings on their person or at their homes, stored in physical material like gold and jewelry and property. Then money was invented as a medium of exchange, and people stored a surrogate of their wealth. Then banking was invented, and people centralized their holdings in a bank, and were paid interest for the privilege. Why were they paid? Because the banks could reuse their money by lending it out, at an even greater rate of interest. Money is fungible. I do not lose anything by storing it at the bank (and allowing them to lend it) except the privacy of keeping secret how much money I have, and risk that the bank will be unable to pay me back. The first is resolved through regulations, and the use of multiple banks, the latter by insurance. In any case, it is much safer than storing the money in a mattress at home.

Once upon a time, people kept their life's information on their person or on computers at their home or work, stored in physical material like floppy disk drives, hard disk drives, solid state drives, CDs, DVDs, and USB chips. Then the internet was invented, and centralized servers were made inexpensively and redundantly, and people could store their information in the "cloud". In many cases the cloud is free, or charges only a small fee. In exchange, the recipients agree to allow their personal information to be used to generate customized advertising targeted at them personally. But imagine their were a way for the cloud to earn interest on information much the same way banks earn interest on money, by synthesizing it and "lending it out". Since information is not rivalrous, this may prove viable with sufficient artificial intelligence aimed at developing ontologies and computer intelligence. The risk is the loss of privacy. Alternatively the customer pays the cloud for storage and computation, retaining privacy, in exchange being relieved of duties of backup, which when neglected lead to all too much data loss.

Once upon a time people kept their personal transportation near their person, parking cars and bikes at their homes, workplaces, or other destinations. This was the only way to guarantee point to point transportation in a timely way where densities were low, incomes high, and taxis scarce. Then "cloud commuting" was invented, cars from a giant pool operated by organizations in the cloud would dispatch a vehicle that drives to the customer on demand and in short order, and then deliver the customer to the destination. The vehicle would have the customers preferences pre-loaded (seat position, computing ability, audio environment). The customer benefits of course by not tying up capital in vehicles, nor having to worry about maintaining or fueling vehicles. The fleet is used more efficiently, each vehicle would operate 2 times or 3 times or more miles per year than current vehicles, so the fleet would turnover faster and be more modern. Fewer vehicles overall would be needed. It is likely customers would need to pay for this service (either as a subscription or a per-use basis), there is no obvious analogue to financial interest payments (and while advertising might offset some costs, surely it would not cover them). However stores might subsidize transportation, as might employers, as benefits for the customers or staff.

The tension between centralization and decentralization has been continuous through the history of technology, each has its advantages and disadvantages (and strangely, each also has religious zealots convinced there is one true way). This is ultimately a question of costs and benefits, and who bears the costs and benefits.

I am skeptical that cloud commuting can be made to work quite yet, there are still a few more technologies to perfect. Having tested Zipcar, their system lacks in several ways, much the ways the first banks failed frequently. Zipcars are still not local enough, they charge too much for lateness, the technology is still imperfect. But imagine we have cars that drive themselves. (and to PRT-advocates, these will be cars driving on streets, there are not enough resources to build a new infrastructure network for specialized vehicles). Smart cars solve the localness problem, since the cars come to you. In a way it also solves the lateness problem, because there is no need to reserve a specific car for a specific window, any unused fleet car can be dispatched. There would need to load balancing features, and maybe coordinated carpooling at peak times. (It also saves on parking, especially parking in high value areas).

Related links:

* Technological change, part 2: Autonomous vehicles

* The Future of Cars

August 13, 2008

Cars that talk

Via Slashdot from "The Future of Things"Cars that Talk. Europe has reserved spectrum space for vehicle-infrastructure communication systems. Hopefully the same standard is adopted globally so I can drive my Subaru to France.

Seriously, I think the best use would be for cars to broadcast locally their ID, position, velocity, and acceleration so that other cars will know the position of neighbors accurately. This will greatly help automated vehicles maneuver on roads. Smart autonomous cars would be able to operate in mixed traffic. (Clearly they would need ways of detecting vehicles that were not broadcasting as well, but if all nearby vehicles could be located, it would help a lot).

June 19, 2008

Taxis in the Sky

From The Atlantic by James Fallows: Taxis in the Sky about the emerging market for air taxis connecting smaller cities not served by point-to-point service.

"Herriott and Sawhill have developed a model to simulate the individual decisions that go into every one of these business trips. The model starts with the likelihood that a person in any one city, let’s say Mobile, will want to go to another, say Savannah, on any given weekday (for now, DayJet is a weekday-only service). These predictions are based on average income in each city, business relations, and other factors, and are constantly tuned to reflect real data. “It’s like the pull between two planetary bodies,? Herriott said. “Almost a Newtonian law!? (He was joking.)"

Could they be using a version of The Gravity Model, which implements a version of Tobler's First Law of Geography "Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things."

June 17, 2008


For those into flying cars, the blog: Paleo-Future has a great collection of unbuilt predictions.

April 5, 2008

What Will Life Be Like in the Year 2008

What Will Life Be Like in the Year 2008? written in 1968. ...

March 22, 2008

Transportation as recreation

Noted, but not endorsed (experience suggests they have a tendency to misquote those they talk to), for your reading entertainment: "User-skill-based Mass Transit!".

The risk of linking to cranks is it gives them publicity, but this one is truly outside the box.

At least they oppose the California High Speed Rail Initiative (unless they get 30% of the funds).

March 10, 2008

Automating the buggy whip-robot tank fueling devices

Via Bruce Sterling: Robots Take Over Car Fueling In The Netherlands At "TankPitstop". View the cool video, and then ask, so much human energy for such a trivial and short term problem. I suppose as proof of concept of robots in the field interact with civilians, it has its uses, but (a) since when were people too lazy or unskilled to pump gas (i.e. the driver is still sitting in the car), and (b) once cars are plug-in electrics, will we need a robot to plug the car into the socket, or maybe we get a home robot to plug the car into the socket, and then a robot to plug that robot in, and then a robot to plug *that* robot in, and so on.

February 23, 2008

Air-powered Car Asymptotically Approaches Reality

From Popular Mechanics: Air-Powered Car Coming to U.S. in 2009 to 2010 .

"Company officials want to make the first air-powered car to hit U.S. roads a $17,800, 75-hp equivalent, six-seat modified version of MDI’s CityCAT (pictured above) that, thanks to an even more radical engine, is said to travel as far as 1000 miles at up to 96 mph with each tiny fill-up. "

January 8, 2008

GM demoes at CES

From the New York Times: G.M.s Fuel-Cell Car Makes a Statement. GM demoed a fuel cell powered Cadillac (the poorly named Provoq) and a modified Chevrolet Tahoe that drives itself. Neither is ready for production, but maybe we are finally asymptotically approaching the long-forecast future of cars that drive themselves and do not pollute.

January 6, 2008

Aerotropolis: Skyscraper Airport

From Popular Mechanix (1939) via Boing Boing - Modern Mechanix: Skyscraper Airport for City of Tomorrow

If only air travel could be this simple. Presumably the building would be robust to planes crashing into it.

November 7, 2007

Mean Automakers Dash Nation's Hope For Flying Cars

From The Onion, via DK: Mean Automakers Dash Nation's Hope For Flying Cars

Mean Automakers Dash Nation's Hope For Flying Cars

November 5, 2007

Cars for cities?

From CNET: MIT offers City Car for the masses also see BitCar home page

It is nice to see some relaxation of traditional constraints.

July 26, 2007

Flying cars coming soon to ten feet above your head

Jalopnik Loves Flying Cars: World's First Flying Car Enters Production - Jalopnik

The video is not overwhelmingly convincing that this will hit mainstream any time soon.

May 2, 2006

The world loves a train ride

The Minnesota Streetcar Museum, Minnesota's "other light rail" will be open for rides again. See related article in the Strib about rail nostalgia, when life was simpler and trains were faster than cars. All obsolete transportation systems become rides, what will we do with interstates once we get flying cars?