Tube transportation – ET3
By Jared Lindzon: The average transportation speed of American citizens was 4 miles per hour in the year 1850. The primary mode of transportation then was a combination of walking and horse back.
By 1900 that speed doubled, thanks in part to the expansion of rail lines, to 8 miles an hour (12.8 km/h). By 1950 the proliferation of automobiles extended the average transportation speed to 24 miles an hour (38.6 km/h), and by the year 2000 airplanes were used widely enough to bring that speed up to 75 miles an hour (120 km/h).
“If you follow that trend line, by 2030, we should be reaching speeds between 225 and 250 miles an hour [or between 362 and 402 km/h], on average,” said Thomas Frey, an author, public speaker, futurist and founder of the DaVinci institute, a non-profit futurist think tank. “We ask the question ‘how can we possibly reach speeds like that?’ and so we start looking at the technologies.”
While more people will take to the skies in the next 15 years than the previous, other transportation technologies, still in their infancy today, could have far reaching effects on how humans move around the planet in the year 2030.
According to Frey, the driverless car era lies just around the corner, and has the potential to change transportation more fundamentally than the invention of the car itself. Though he predicts that flying cars will be relegated to science fiction, he sees the driverless vehicle, which is currently in development by companies like Google and John Deere, as the “holy grail of the transportation world.”
“Sometime between 2030 and 2035, with the coming driverless car era, we will reach a point where we are having highways that are designated as driverless vehicles only,” he said. “Once you remove the human element from it, that stretch of highway can then transport 10 times the volume of people as it does right now, if not more.”
Frey adds that driverless cars can travel closer together and at much higher speeds — nearly 150 miles per hour, or 241 km/h — while eliminating safety concerns by taking human error out of the equation. He also predicts that driverless cars will soon make car ownership a thing of the past.
“Think about stepping outside of your house in 10 or 15 years from now, you take out your smartphone and you want to go shopping or you want to go to school or work, a driverless vehicle picks you up and takes you where you want to go, then from there it picks somebody else up and takes them where they want to go, so these vehicles are in constant motion,” he said. “A young child today will probably never have to get a driver’s license.”
Frey adds that this represents a transition from a “just in case mindset” — like keeping a car in the garage just in case it’s needed — to a “just in time mindset” —where shared transportation is readily available at a moment’s notice.
With this fundamental change to mobility also comes a major blow to a number of industries. That is because autonomous cars could eliminate the need for auto insurance as well as driving professionals like taxi and truck operators.
“The most endangered job in the world right now is perhaps the driver,” he said.
In July of 2012 entrepreneur and inventor Elon Musk released plans for what he deemed as the “5th mode of transportation.” He described his creation, the Hyperloop, as “a cross between a Concorde and a railgun and an air hockey table.”
His hypothesized transportation system, like ET3, would exist within a vacuumed tube as to almost entirely eliminate air resistance and friction, allowing capsules to glide at high speeds with minimal energy.
“You can push these capsules through a tube with your little finger,” said Frey. “A trip from Washington to Beijing on ET3 could be done in less than two hours.”
Of course such a trip would require a major investment in infrastructure first, but Frey imagines that such projects would help offset job losses that result from the driverless car era. He also believes that the infrastructure costs would pay for themselves very quickly, as the Hyperloop wouldn’t require any fuel or human operators.
Musk has already laid out plans to power the entire system with solar panels, and while he hasn’t announced what ticket prices might look like if and when ET3 is built, Frey believes that it will eventually cost as little as $100 to make that trip from Washington to Beijing.
“It’s not inconceivable to have a very fluid society where we have breakfast in New York, lunch in Tokyo and dinner in Moscow,” said Frey.
In short, the term “going out for Chinese food” might have a very different meaning by the year 2030.
Four Possible Scenarios
Frey isn’t the only futurist to consider how transportation will evolve over the next few years. Anthony Townsend, a senior research scientist at NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, recently released a report called Reprogramming Mobility, where he proposes four archetypical scenarios for the evolution of transportation over the next 15 years.
In his report Townsend takes an in depth look at four possible outcomes in four specific locations, though he says that they’re meant to serve as a representation of the country as a whole. In his report he outlines concerns over government partnerships with private companies, and considers how those agreements could play out over the long haul.
The first scenario takes place in Atlanta, where a near-bankrupt municipal government of the future is unable to afford repairs to its crumbling infrastructure, so it enters a partnership with Google.
“The idea there is that Google does get to implement its vision of driverless cars, and does so in part with the state government in Georgia,” said Townsend. “You get a whole lot of land use impacts from them, hyper urban sprawl, neighborhoods that aren’t connected to this network and get left behind, and then you get a lot of difficult questions around the role of a single company having so much control over infrastructure. “
The second scenario considers a dystopian future for Los Angeles, where self-driving cars are forced to share the roads with manually driven vehicles, creating unsafe and unpredictable roadways.
“It’s not a world where we all have these identical perfect pod cars — you have no idea what to expect from other drivers,” he said. “On top of that you’re basically doubling the number of cars, because all of a sudden kids and senior citizens and visually impaired people are going to be buying cars for the first time, so it’s a world of messy transition, and the L.A. region basically becomes unlivable.”
The third scenario takes place in New Jersey, where global warming has caused a series of brutal winters and severe weather patterns, which in turn put a strain on road maintenance. Once the city exhausts its resources, it calls upon the state to help rebuild the transit system.
“They build a network of high speed, electronically hailed busses and rapid transit,” said Townsend. “So you’ve basically got busses running at 6-inches of separation through the Lincoln Tunnel to make up for the real capacity they never built.”
The fourth and final scenario imagined by Townsend and his team considers the future of transportation in Boston, where smart transit systems and electric bikes help support a city of students living in high-density single-person apartments, while sharing transit routes with freight vehicles leaving the harbor.
“Most shipping companies can’t keep up with the volume, but you’ve also seen Amazon and Google and EBay getting into same-day delivery, so you can imagine what might happen in the extreme is that they would start forcing all the freight to be delivered at night,” he said. “So the city would be for people during the daytime and robots at night.”
Why It Matters
Both Townsend and Frey believe that these scenarios are important to consider today so that we can begin to ask some of the questions that will shape our future.
For example, Townsend believes that we’re moving into an era where we must consider the disproportionate power that companies like Google and Uber could wield over cash-strapped governments and municipalities.
“Google’s been bragging that they can fix traffic because they can fit twice as many cars on the road by spacing them closer together through self driving, but unless they can also reduce fuel consumption by 50 per cent, we’re not making any progress towards emissions goals,” he said. “When you fix one problem you create another, that’s why I think planners need to be forcefully part of the conversation, because their bread and butter is understanding and communicating complexity.”
Frey, on the other hand, tends to have a more optimistic outlook. He believes that the passage of time allows most things to eventually fall into place, though the transition process will almost certainly have some bumps in the road.
“We’re going to run into lots of things that go wrong,” he said. “All of those things go away over time, and so if it’s not this generation it will be the next one that finally gets it pushed through.”
Via Beacon Reader