Charlie Stross ponders the future of cars

Paul Raven @ 10-11-2010

If you’re bored of my bootstrap amateur futurism (I suppose one can have too much of a good thing, AMIRITES?), pop over to Charlie Stross’ blog and watch a professional at work as he considers the future of personal transport:

While the basic automobile is a mature technology, autonomous vehicles — specifically, self-driving cars — are not. However, they’re clearly coming along by leaps and bounds. And unlike human drivers, computers don’t generally suffer from lapses of attention, have heart attacks at the wheel, drive home from the pub after a couple of pints too many, or plough into cyclists while texting their girlfriends.

Shortly after (not if, but when) we see autopilots become standard equipment in cars, we can expect to see insurance premiums start to rise sharply for people who insist on driving themselves around on the public highways — especially for third-party insurance.

(Remember, it’s not about you: it’s about the guy in the pick-up behind you who’s had six pints of beer, or the gal in the SUV bearing down on the pedestrian crossing who’s paying more attention to the friend she’s chatting to than the kids crossing the road. You could be that guy or that gal; or you could be scrupulously attentive the whole time. Your insurance company’s computer can’t tell until you have an accident … that’s the problem with Baye’s Theorem.)

Longer term (I suspect a generation after that point) we’ll begin to see pressure to ban humans from driving on the public roads. By this point, the cost of electronics required to upgrade a vehicle to self-driving capability will have fallen so much that it’s ubiquitous, even in the developing world.

The mark of good futurism, for me at least, is when you read or hear it and think “well, yeah, of course; obvious, isn’t it?” The cynical rejoinder to that would be to say that repeating the obvious is easy work… to which I’d respond that either a) I’m an idiot or b) it’s not as easy as the experts make it look. (I’m rooting for option B there, obviously.)

That said, the gaping hole in Charlie’s piece is the absence of public transport as an influential factor; maybe I’m just being too idealist (or naive), but I find it hard to envisage a future a century hence where private ownership of long-distance vehicles is anywhere near as ubiquitous as it is now. Shared pools thereof, perhaps… but I figure that a radical rethink of transport infrastructure – not to mention the necessity of long-distance personal travel – is pretty inevitable, whether caused by rational politics (not looking likely) or the rocks and hard places of post-Peak Oil economics (looking pretty inevitable).

After all, the Greatest Nation in the World™ can’t afford to maintain its roads and highways at the moment; cars will be little use with nothing to drive ’em on. Unless the highways seceded, of course…


Scaled-elextric: slot cars for transport

Tom James @ 11-08-2009

slot-carToday’s dose of technocratic mass-transport conceptual design is brought to you by German designer Christian Förg. His Speedway Transport System is inspired by slot cars of his youth:

Förg’s Speedway Transport System concept uses a network of linear electric motors to propel cars along the highway.

He sees us driving around in futuristic dual-mode electric cars with small motors for city driving. When we’re ready to leave town, a contact-free linear motor would propel the car over long distances with a drifting magnetic field. Förg says linear motors would work under our existing roadways, complementing – not replacing – existing automotive technology.

“This means that you can use the roads with normal cars and also at the same time for the Speedway system,”

If this ever gets taken up it’ll be interesting to see what alternative uses the street finds for this technology.

A slight non-sequitur: Will Hutton writes in the Guardian on the dire state of the UK rail network, and how in order to remain economically competitive, Britain must invest in the kind of high-speed rail they have in Europe.

[via Wired][image from Wired]


Smartdust on the roads, in the cars

Tom James @ 01-07-2009

highway_insomniaThe old chestnut of fully automatic cars trundled a little bit closer with the development of EM2P by the European research group EMMA:

“We sought to hide the underlying complexity of in-car embedded sensors so that developers could quickly design new applications with existing electronics,” explains Antonio Marqués Moreno, coordinator of the EMMA project. “EMMA will foster cost-efficient ambient intelligence systems with optimal performance, high reliability, reduced time-to-market and faster deployment.”

The project hopes that, by hiding the complexity of the underlying infrastructure, its work will open up new prospects in the field of embedded, cooperating wireless objects.

The key of the idea is to make a middleware application between the embedded sensors in cars and designers who want to develop interesting and useful applications.

it could also work between cars – opening the prospect of cooperating cars – and, of course, it can work with traffic infrastructure like lights, warning signs, and other signalling information. All of this via the same middleware platform.

Also a possible route of entry for a hypothetical Internet of Things.

[from ICT results, via Physorg][image from Nrbelex on flickr]


GM to make own batteries

Tom James @ 14-01-2009

merbraWith the wind firmly in the sails (lolwhut?) of hybrid cars auto giant GM is to get into the electric battery business:

The company also plans to increase its in-house battery development by building a 31,000-square-foot battery lab and hiring hundreds of battery engineers. GM is also working with a battery-engineering program at the University of Michigan to train new engineers. The lack of qualified and experienced battery engineers in the United States has been one of the big challenges facing battery startups such as A123 Systems. Most advanced battery production takes place in Asia, and this could hold back a switch from conventional vehicles to electric ones in the United States.

Technology Review have also created an interesting infographic of how a hybrid car works.

[from Technology Review][image from jaqian on flickr]


The price of revenge – pranking speed cameras

Paul Raven @ 22-12-2008

UK-style GATSO traffic speed cameraYet again, the street finds its own use for things – even the things installed by The Man to make the street safe. Students in Maryland in the US have hit upon the idea of making up fake license plates for their cars which match those of someone on whom they wish to exact a bit of revenge, and then driving past the automatic speed cameras in the area at high speeds. End result? The unsuspecting victim is automatically sent a ticket for speeding, even though they didn’t do it. [via SlashDot]

Of course, we Brits have our own version of the same system, but over here people clone the plates of similar vehicles for the purpose of avoiding their own fines; they’re not so bothered about who ends up paying them, so long as it’s not them.

Remember, folks: state-owned automated surveillance systems. If you’ve done nothing wrong, then you’re perfectly safe.

Well, mostly. [image by 91RS]


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