Cars drive themselves; trains go 4,000 mph in future

June 06 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Transportation   Year: General   Rating: 11 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

In the sci-fi movie Minority Report cars drive themselves, maneuvering unaided through traffic. Though the film represents a more distant future, amazing cars like these could be parked in your garage as early as 2020.

Imagine making the 270-mile trip from Los Angeles to Los Vegas in tomorrow’s “smart” car. You hop in your car, tell it your destination, and off you go. Traveling on an automated highway system, sensors guide you in complete safety, at speeds up to 140 mph. You sit in the driver’s seat, but the car does the driving. For your part, you kick back; read a newspaper, browse the Internet, watch TV, or take a nap. In less than two hours, you arrive in Las Vegas relaxed and ready for fun.

Some of the technology necessary to make this future happen is already in our vehicles; cruise control, load-leveling, and satellite navigation. The two steps that remain – allowing computers to actually pilot the car, and developing the automated highway system – are being tested now on a ten mile Interstate highway strip near San Diego. Electronics in the roadway are detected by sensors located in test cars, which feeds steering information to the car’s computer.

In the wake of the computer and information revolutions, motor vehicles are undergoing the most dramatic changes in capabilities and how they interact with drivers since the early 1900s. The U.S. Department of Transportation is spending more than $1 billion a year to develop “human-centered” smart vehicles and intelligent highway systems. The DOT believes this technology is essential to handling the vast number of vehicles expected on tomorrow’s roads. (cont.)

“Smart cars,” traveling at 140 mph, with six feet of space between cars, and protected by collision-avoidance radar, would permit up to triple the number of vehicles to use roadways safely. This high-speed/high-capacity driving technology will relieve congestion, lower pollution, reduce the need for additional highways, and save lives by eliminating accidents.

While cars are fine for short trips, for longer journeys we may want to take a magnetically-levitated train. The world’s first “maglev” train service began on January 1, 2003 cruising between Pudong and Shanghai, China reaching speeds over 300 mph. Trials are currently underway in Germany and Japan, and U.S. groups have proposed Los Angeles-Las Vegas and Boston-New York-Washington DC routes.

A submerged oceanic tunnel suggested by MIT’s Frank Davidson would someday zip a maglev train under the Atlantic at speeds up to 4,000 mph. Passengers would travel from New York to London in about an hour.

Will this future happen? Experts say yes. By 2015, first generation “smart” vehicles will avoid collisions. By 2020, second generation voice recognition vehicles will drive unassisted on automated highways. By 2025, third generation vehicles will receive commands from muscle impulses, eye movements, and brain waves, creating a personal human-vehicle relationship. And by 2030, maglev trains could speed to any continent in the world in 2 hours or less.

Go “magical future.” Comments welcome.

When do you picture yourself purchasing a driverless car?

or Show Results

Comment Thread (5 Responses)

  1. Cars that drives themselves? Absolutely. Because everybody wants one and the technology is getting there.

    Trains that go 4,000 mph under Atlantic? No. Who is going to pay trillions for a project like this? No business would risk so much money on something that not so many people even care about. And government is already in so much debt that finding money for another “bridge to nowhere” can be tricky.

    I don’t even see Los Angeles-Las Vegas route happening any time soon. For pretty much the same reason that makes New York-London route problematic. Nobody except timeshare sales people in Las Vegas even mentions that project anymore.

    Of course there are always magical nano-robots that can build everything for free. But when we are that advanced, I don’t think we’ll care about stupid things like trains and Las Vegas.

    Posted by: johnfrink   June 06, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend

  2. I have to agree with johnfrink. In fact, Dick, I believe that virtually everything you say is blindly copied from Ray Kurzweil, who is quite possibly the worst excuse for a futurist since the Jetsonian flying car-peddlers from the 1950s.

    Unlike you and several others here, I do not envision a Technological Singularity within a puny fifty years, and I’ve just read an issue of IEEE Spectrum devoted to the subject, in which several articles from reputable neuroscientists, physicists, biologists, technologists and trend-watchers criticize the absurd timelines and point out obvious and gaping holes in the arguments of the Techno-Rapturists themselves.

    Posted by: adbatstone80   June 07, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend

  3. Johnfrink, Frank Davidson’s prediction that someday we would construct a sub-Atlantic maglev route with trains reaching 4,000 mph speeds may or may not happen in the time frame mentioned in the article, but as to whether it will ever happen or not; who knows?

    Personally, I see many transportation breakthroughs happening in this century as our technologies exponentially advance: driverless cars and pilotless air-cars, supersonic maglev trains, scramjet planes reaching any destination on Earth in an hour or less, transferring people in information form via teleportation and instantly to vast distances in space through wormholes.

    Will tomorrow’s technologies provide such a “magical future?” Positive futurists believe that they will.

    Adbatstone80, there are different ways to define a technological singularity. My interpretation of this event describes the time – sometime in the 2030-2035 era – when strong AI surpasses human intelligence. I do not however, see this as anything to fear or to be confused by.

    By mid-2030s, humanity will have achieved the ability to interface human brains directly with our silicon cousins and we will share their vast intelligence. I believe that we may refer to 2035-2050 as the golden age of intelligence, and the benefits of this vast knowledge could by mid-century, provide us with a life as different from today’s crude 2008 human as we are to our cavemen ancestors.

    Comments welcome.

    Posted by: futuretalk   June 07, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend

  4. “By mid-2030s, humanity will have achieved the ability to interface human brains directly with our silicon cousins and we will share their vast intelligence.”

    Yeah. All this despite the fact that the best neuroscientists still don’t have a ghost of a clue what intelligence or consciousness is. I doubt that they will find out anytime soon.

    Posted by: adbatstone80   June 08, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend

  5. Some are more positive than others. Maybe this is what makes humans so unique.

    Posted by: futuretalk   June 08, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend