Why Robot Cars Matter

Why robot cars (autonomous vehicles), as demonstrated by Google this week (and randomly captured by Robert Scoble in the video above), matter.

1. Safety – cars would be safe if only there weren’t drivers behind the wheel. Driverless cars seldom get distracted or tired, have really fast perception-reaction times, know exactly how hard to break, and can communicate (potentially) with vehicles around them with Mobile Ad Hoc Networks. But this improves not only vehicle safety, it improves the safety and environment for pedestrians and bicyclists.

2. Capacity – ‘bots can follow other driverless cars at a significantly reduced distance, and can stay within much narrower lanes with greater accuracy. Capacity at bottlenecks should improve, both in throughput per lane and the number of lanes per unit roadwidth. These cars still need to go somewhere, so we need capacity on city streets as well as freeways, but we save space on parking (see below), and lane width everywhere. If we can reduce lane width, and have adequate capacity, we can reduce paved area and still see higher throughput. Most roadspace is not used most of the time now.

3. Vehicle diversity – Narrow and specialized cars are now more feasible with computers driving and increased overall safety. Especially if we move to cloud commuting (as below), we can have greater variety, and more precision in the fleet, with the right size car for the job.

4. Travel behavior – if the cost of traveling per trip declines (drivers need to exert less effort, and lose less effective time, since they can do something else), we would expect more trips (my taxi can take me wherever) and longer trips and more trips by robocar.

5. Land use – if acceptable trip distances increases, we would expect a greater spread of origins and destinations, (pejoratively, sprawl), just as commuter trains enable exurban living or living in a different city.

6. Parking – my car can drop me off at the front door, and go fairly remotely to park, so we don’t need to devote valuable space to parking ramps (garages) (we still need space, it is just far away), searching for parking is also less critical. On street parking can be abolished.

7. Transportation disadvantaged – children, the physically challenged, and others who cannot or should not drive, are now enabled. Parents, friends, and siblings need not shuttle children around, the vehicle can do that by itself. The differences between transit and private vehicles begin to collapse. We can serious consider giving passes to driverless taxis for the poor, since costs should drop with lower labor costs, and if the point below holds, paratransit services become much less expensive as well.

8. Reduced auto ownership – cloud commuting becomes possible.People no longer need to own a car, they can instead subscribe to a car sharing service.

Skylifter airship could carry 150-ton buildings | KurzweilAI

Skylifter1 Skylifter2From KurzweilAI Skylifter airship could carry 150-ton buildings :

Australian company SkyLifter has designed a heavy-lifting, vertical ascent and descent aircraft that will operate as a practical flying crane.
The aircraft is designed to take off where helicopters leave off, with vertical pickup and delivery capability of over-size, fragile or bulky items up to 150 tons, and potentially more. The long flight duration of 24 hours ensures a good distance range and adds flexibility to logistics. The aircraft can loiter over a ground location for long periods using minimal energy.

Commercial electric cars replace transport pods plan

Commercial electric cars replace transport pods plan
Masdar kills its PRT plan.

Chris Stanton
Last Updated: Oct 11, 2010
Masdar, the Abu Dhabi Government’s clean energy company, has put its plan for futuristic transport pods on the back-burner and will instead turn to commercial electric cars, executives said yesterday.
The personal rapid transport (PRT) system, a network of driverless electric vehicles, is in use at the Masdar Institute, the first stage of the city that was completed last month. But the technology would require further development to meet the needs of later stages of the city, said Dr Sultan al Jaber, the chief executive of Masdar.
“We’re big believers in this technology,” he said. “But today does it meet our requirements moving forward? No, not as it is today. “Has the PRT matured over the past three years? Absolutely. But the way to get it from where it is today at the Masdar project to where we want it to be, is going to take a little bit more time than our own design.”Today we have access to electric vehicles that have developed very quickly over the past three years.”
The emerging electric vehicle industry has accelerated, with the release of two battery-powered cars, the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf, due before the end of the year. Dr al Jaber confirmed that Masdar had begun talks with Daimler to co-operate on electric cars and said it would make use of developments by other UAE-based companies focused on clean technology, including Aabar, the Abu Dhabi National Energy Company, known as Taqa, and IPIC. Alan Frost, the director of Masdar City, said the project ought to make use of these mass-market technologies instead of developing its own networks. “For Masdar to be a true learning experience it needs to be innovative but it also needs to be tapping into what’s available in all the rest of the world,” he said.
Masdar had originally planned to build the city on a 7.5-metre platform designed to house delivery stations, utilities and waste collection points under pedestrian areas. However, the city will now feature wider streets to accommodate existing commercial vehicles for these purposes.

Electric cars: Highly charged motoring

The Economist is skeptical about the environmental benefits of electric cars, and in particular their environmental efficiency Highly charged motoring. I of course agree with the notion of a carbon tax, and the gas tax is a weak version of that. The question is then at what rate, which is where the argument should be.
Too bad they don’t mention A Better Place, which at least has the potential to solve the charging time issue the article complains about.