Transportation technology is in the midst of a revolution. New technologies are improving the efficiency of existing transportation methods, while new inventions are poised to entirely reshape the way we move.
Five technologies have risen to the forefront of the latest transportation revolution.
The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things assumes that all people and items can be connected through networks. These vast connected networks could potentially influence many aspects of our daily driving:
- Route Planning — Sensors in the vehicle communicate with GPS services to determine the best route, which is then displayed on a head-up display that physically directs the driver along route.
- Accident Prevention — Sensors alert drivers to the position of other vehicles on the road and prevent collisions. The cars can even override driver controls to avoid an accident.
- Safety — A series of sensors in the seat belt can track the driver’s physiological indicators and determine whether the driver is fatigued or intoxicated. If the driver fails any of the tests performed by the sensors, the vehicle becomes inoperable.
The advent of self-driving driving cars such as the Google car and Telsa are making the idea of autonomous cars a reality. Several, states across the country have begun passing laws to regulate the technology and encourage its development. However, the safety and public acceptance of these autonomous vehicles have been a question of public interest and concern. Moreover, a series of accidents in the summer of 2016 increased the debate about the safety of autonomous vehicles.
With continued research and development, autonomous car technology will likely become a safer alternative to human drivers, with additional economic and environmental benefits. Removing human control from the vehicle will potentially help cars reach their designed fuel economy, leading to less gas consumption and reduced cost of vehicle ownership.
Lightweight Vehicle Materials
Automobile manufacturers are under increasing pressure to deliver vehicles with high performance and excellent efficiency. Studies have shown that reducing the weight of the vehicle by as little as 10% can improve fuel economy by 6% or more. The federal government estimates that if just 25% of cars used lighter-weight materials, the country would consume 5 billion fewer gallons of gas each year by 2030.
The focus of lightweight materials research is to move away from cast iron and steel. The leading candidates to replace these metals in the near future are magnesium-aluminum alloys and carbon fiber construction. However, questions still exist about whether the materials can hold up under the forces of highway accidents, and whether manufacturers will be able to produce lightweight materials at a low enough cost for automakers.
On-Demand Ride Services
Less than two years ago, Uber and Lyft dramatically changed the way people in large cities find transportation. With an app, riders can summon a vehicle to their location, any time they want it. The services have already eroded the profits of cab companies and decreased DUI rates in many cities.
While on-demand ride services are a hit with riders, there are serious legal and ethical questions that are causing governments to re-evaluate authorization for Uber and Lyft to work in their jurisdictions. The primary concern is that Uber and Lyft drivers are considered contract earners and not employees, leaving them with the burden of income tax but few benefits. On the other hand, safer roads and greater flexibility are attractive for riders.
The most ambitious of all of the technologies changing transportation is SpaceX’s Hyperloop. The concept is a pneumatic tube that uses a series of linear induction motors and compressors to propel vehicles at super-fast speeds. The first proposed Hyperloop would connect Los Angeles and San Francisco and allow passengers to complete the 350-mile trip in just more than half an hour.
Time will tell if the Hyperloop’s technology will be the future of long-distance travel in the United States. As an emerging technology, the initial cost is astronomical, with estimates of the first line placed at more than $6 billion. however, the project’s private funding limits the impact on government spending.
New technologies have caused a fundamental shift in the way people see transportation. Minor changes to existing methods of transportation could have a considerable impact in the near future, while the introduction of completely new technology, like the Hyperloop, might usher in a new transportation revolution.