When you look at all surface modes, the velocipede is probably the least changed. That’s neither a good nor bad thing. The bicycle has performed reasonably well throughout its history and that speaks volumes. In other words there doesn’t seem to be much room for improvement.
The same, however, cannot be said for the automobile or the platform on which the automobile operates.
But, how to make the mode and platform better is the kind of fare that makes for good debate. And, the matter will likely go on being debated for some time still. It’s amazing what’s been tried and been met with approval and what’s been tried and rejected. The latest iteration of what’s been tried and approved is what exists today. The journey’s been long and the road bumpy. But, depending on how things develop, the road could be smoothing out. The reality is there is work, much work, to be done.
I’m here to discuss what the motor vehicle and its platform might look like in the view ahead. I think it really depends on how far out one chooses to look. Looking ahead far enough, the conveyances we travel in might float on air and the technology in use to allow that to happen might consist of what works on the principle of passive magnetic levitation. Passive magnetic what?
In the Air Quality Matters blog article “Passive magnetic levitation: The future of land-based transport?” on passive magnetic levitation or just passive maglev, the scene is set.
Here’s an excerpt. “Okay, so imagine you’re traveling on a motorway you in your pod moving at speed, your ‘wheel-less’ transporter seemingly floating on air, and separating the carriage’s underside from the pavement surface below is but a mere centimeters. You are joined by people in countless other pods, all travel conveyances already having had pre-programmed into their data storage and computer banks corresponding destination coordinates. Your personal hover craft takes and gets you to your destination with great speed and agility (without incident, in other words) or damage to the outside air. If you were fuzzy on what was meant by the fifth generation in travel and transport, you should be clear on this now.”
Getting the picture? With the way the picture is portrayed, one gets the feeling that with a platform on this order, collisions involving - and emissions from - the motor vehicle platform become a thing of the past, there is no longer any need for an interior steering wheel, the pods will go exactly where they’re pre-programmed to and all headaches will be removed from the automated mobility equation and travel is made good once again.
But, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
That said, at this time what is advisable is to concentrate on the nearer-term and see just what type of promise that could hold.
Daniel Sperling, Distinguished Blue Planet Prize Professor of Engineering and Environmental Science & Policy
University of California, Davis, in an email wrote:
“We have two main strategies to decarbonize transportation and make it more broadly sustainable: 1) electrify all cars, trucks, and buses (plus 2-wheelers in the “global south”), and 2) reduce vehicle use by transitioning to shared automated vehicles (AVs). The world is well on its way to achieving the first goal of vehicle electrification, though the US is badly lagging Europe and China. No other strategy has much potential for large reductions in GHGs. The second strategy, though, is far more uncertain—and risky. If AVs (aka autonomous vehicles) are personally owned and simply replace human-driven vehicles, it will be a disaster—with a huge increase in vehicle use since they will encourage people to [live] farther from work, and to use their vehicles as offices, hotels, and entertainment centers. But if the vehicles are operated as pooled transit vehicles and thereby carry multiple passengers, then the result would be a large reduction in vehicle use and ownership. The service would be so inexpensive and convenient that most travelers would be delighted to relinquish the hassles—and costs—of driving, parking, maintenance, and repair. But will people be willing to share rides and will cities be willing to embrace driver-less vehicles?” Sperling asks. The $64 million question.
The reality? This platform could be here sooner than you may know.
All I can say at this point is stay tuned.
1. Personal communication, Sept. 10, 2023.