A New World is Only a Decade Away

It is well known that I am a space cadet, and of the opinion that humanities fate lies in the stars and not on earth.

That said, here we are, and we have to make the best of it until folks understand that it’s only a lifeboat and supplies are running short.

So, here is something we can fix.  I am not going to throw out a lot of statistics, though I’ve reviewed a few and the numbers are staggering.  Since 1956, we have spent 6.3 TRILLION dollars on the Interstate highway system alone.  That does not count all the state, county, and local roads, which almost certainly account for at least as much.  Since 1980, 1.4 million lives have been lost on US highways.  If we assume an arbitrary, but not unrealistic value, of 1 million dollars per life, that’s 1.3 trillion dollars.

Some big, serious, impressive numbers there BUT IT DOESN’T SCRATCH THE SURFACE.  I don’t think I have ever used that many caps in a row, as it’s considered a pretty sorry excuse for good writing…but in this case, it is important.  UPS, pizza, groceries, buses, in fact, all vehicles now in use and used for any purpose to get either people or items from point A to point B. can and should be autonomous as quickly as possible.

The most conservative estimates are that commute times would be cut by 40% and freeway capacities doubled with autonomous vehicles.  Other estimates are much higher.  Estimates for accidental death are that it would be cut by at least 90%.  Let this sink in!

The actual implications are so startling as to lead to confusion.  It isn’t just about better safety and lowered costs of highways; it is an economic change that will dwarf that of the changes wrought by the automobile itself.

If you accept what I’ve just said and realize the incredible benefits, your next thought is probably “How are we going to be able to afford this, and how long will it take?

As usual, I have a “clever and cunning plan,” to quote Edmund Blackadder’s faithful servant.  The answers, in order are:

It will cost you nothing, and can be done in 10 years.  Here’s how.

1.       Freeze highway construction and complete only those projects now in progress. 

2.       Use the money saved to subsidize the entire cost of the automation system on every purchaser’s next new car.

3.       As projects are completed, keep the tax income steady to increase the pace of conversion.

4.       Make HOV lanes available ONLY to autonomous vehicles.

5.       Add the “fast lane” of freeways as soon as possible.

6.       Add lanes until only autonomous vehicle are allowed to enter a freeway.

7.       When autonomous vehicle saturation is reached, make manual driving illegal except in specified locations.

Undoubtedly plenty to debate there, but conceptually viable.  The potential for improvement in our lives, the economy, and the environment from such a program vastly outpaces any other area we could spend money on by huge amounts.  One or more persons you know and love will live if we do this, and will not if we don’t.

What would things look like in ten years?  Here is what I believe can be said without a doubt, as it is based on what we already know and have seen demonstrated.

>There will be no speed limit. 

Speed limits are for people.  Machines will always move at “reasonable and prudent” speeds because that is what they do.  This may be a hundred miles per hour or more even in a city if it is in a slack traffic period.  That is with current technology.  The ultimate speed limits for autonomous vehicles are governed only by physics and technology.

>Passenger rail of all types, commuter or long haul, will be obsolete. 

We are living in the past, planning for the past, and must wake up.  Unlike the Apollo program or the Manhattan project, the technology is already here and proven.  America can once again lead the world into a brighter future, and all we need is the will.

>Reliance on short haul air service will be drastically reduced.

Aircraft are notoriously inefficient for short hauls.  DFW to Houston, for instance.  However, they are relied on today even though the drive time isn’t much different from the amount of time spent getting to the airport, through security, and all the other overhead that comes with flying because the drive is difficult and laborious at the best of times.  At a hundred miles per hour, it’s only a little over 2 hours of productive time and you leave from your home or office and go directly to your destination with a reliability factor even greater than that of flying.

>Medium haul air service will be reduced as well.

An entirely new business will spring up based on autonomous technology.  There will be short, overnight, vehicles that feature seats that recline to make beds and some basic creature comforts.  These will be used for travel involving overnight trips of 1,000 to 2,000 miles and be rented.  Costs will be competitive to current air fares and cheaper than travel by current automobiles in taking less time and requiring no motel stays.  Longer, vacation or tour type trips will be done in autonomous RV-type vehicles with kitchen, bath, bed and such similar to today’s RVs…except faster, better, and cheaper.

>Many families will have only one car at most.

Cars will travel point to point, and then be used by others.  They may belong to private enterprise, the auto builders, government…my crystal ball isn’t clear on that, but it will be pointless to spend money on something that sits in your driveway much of the time.

I am not a “seer” and probably not even that well qualified as a futurist, but those things just listed require only the application of existing technology to realize.

The 20th century was molded by the likes of Henry Ford, Nicolai Tesla, John D. Rockefeller, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates who had the vision to make things happen.  I have little doubt they could see and fully understood what they were doing.  They built our world on new ideas and concepts that had to be built from the ground up.  What we are discussing here is not in that category at all, simply an extension of the technology and infrastructure built by these entrepreneurial geniuses.

We are living in the past, planning for the past, and must wake up.  Unlike the Apollo program or the Manhattan project, the technology is already here and proven.  America can once again lead the world into a brighter future, and all we need is the will.

ADDENDUM, 8 July, 2014

Not seeing any progress?  Well, 10 years is optimistic and assumes a “wake up.”  While I can’t guarantee there is enough intelligence in our leadership to fully grasp what is at stake here and do what needs to be done, I remain confident that free enterprise will do so.  The biggest no-brainer is the trucking industry.

Even if our personal vehicles aren’t autonomous as fast as we might like, we all have a lot to gain from the trucking industry converting their fleets.  In fact, so much to gain I won’t list all the benefits, but let’s just consider the improvement in our “conventional” driving experience.  Autonomous trucks on our freeways would no longer enter the passing lane and slow traffic for miles as they crawl ahead of another truck.  They would not make sudden changes with little or no signal into your lane.  If you needed to change to the right lane to exit, they’d sense your position and turn signal and provide you space, rather than either speeding up or ignoring you as they do now.  Further, their efficiencies would double or more in that they would never stop to sleep, have a few beers, or whatever.  Shipping costs would drop dramatically.  Accidents, always serious when a big rig is involved, would decrease exponentially.  Just a hint of the benefits, and it is simply a matter of implementing already proven technology.

ADDENDUM 4 August, 2014

Whilst chatting with my wife on a drive last Friday in Houston sluggish freeway traffic I allowed that one thing I would want in my next vehicle is adaptive cruise.  Thinking about that, as well as the lane control now available it made me realize that there is a “half-way” that is already easy, and could be implemented.  If all new vehicles were required to have at least adaptive cruise, and all existing vehicles that could be retrofitted were required to do so (even with tax money) we’d get probably half the benefit of completely autonomous vehicles much sooner.  It is obvious that much of both the frustration and the waste in traffic congestion is due to the slow response of human drivers and failure to maintain even spacing.  We are constantly either stopped or crawling, then sprinting a few hundred yards at up to 40 or so before coming to a halt again.  Adaptive cruise would greatly ameliorate that issue as well as prevent many such congestive situations in the first place.  While estimates are that implementing full autonomy would be like taking at least 4/5s of the traffic off the freeways, I am confident that adaptive cruise and requiring it’s use would produce half that benefit and do so almost immediately.   If there is a problem, it’s similar to the one about national leadership’s shortsightedness concerning autonomous vehicles in general.  The are always fighting the last war.

ADDENDUM 17 October, 2014

I may yet be proven to have been not too far off on the actual paradigm shift.  Cadillac has announced an essentially autonomous 2017 vehicle, available late 2016.  “Semi” in that one will be forced to keep one’s hands on the wheel.  Makes sense.  The laws aren’t ready and neither is the public for total autonomy.  However, the vehicle will handle everything…routing, speed. collision avoidance, lane changes, etc.  I predict GM will be overwhelmed with orders and soon drivers will be asking why they have to keep their hands on the wheel.  The technology will be rapidly deployed to lower priced vehicles.  Tesla has made a similar announcement.

So, wither insurance?  One doesn’t need to be a lawyer to realize one cannot be held accountable of the actions of a computer you didn’t build.  The makers will be responsible.  No more DUI or alcohol related accidents except those caused by total fringe nuts overriding their vehicles…which will be a crime sober or not.  I haven’t looked up the numbers, but I think it safe to say that billions and billions of dollars go to both auto insurers and litigation costs from accidents.  Hospitals get a lot of business as well.  Incredible sums tied up with all aspects of automobile accidents, an industry about to be reduced by 98% as this change takes place.  Good riddance!

We have all become resigned to highways perpetually being 10 years behind.  That will also end as we actually wind up with an oversupply.  Massive savings there as well, all returned to our pocketbooks.

All good news, indeed.



About malletteblog

If folks respond and push back, I will continue this blog. I do this to learn, not to teach. While I will defend my positions vigorously I will change them immediately upon evidence they are incorrect. This is how I learn, and I appreciate all efforts to help me not be a fool who learns only by experience.
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4 Responses to A New World is Only a Decade Away

  1. John says:

    We HAVE to get rid of the selfish idea of personal transport, no intermediate steps, because that would not lead to real change. Make the idea of travelling or commuting en masse appealing, and an experience. There is already a market for that, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates have given us that market. Their is no more ridiculous site than watching the morning traffic reports, your future would only make it an automated traffic jam, still with mostly individuals sitting in their own capsule texting and browsing the internet, but in a safer manner.. I believe the kids of today will readily accept mass transit, and in a way that was un-thought of ten years past. No baby steps, we can’t afford it.

    • malletteblog says:

      Fully agree, John. Even a few days ago I had not had these thoughts even though I am prone to flights of future fantasy. This, however, is NOT a fantasy but simply something we should demand action on. The technology is here and proven. Not perfect, but nothing that use won’t fix and improve on. Your vision is not at all unlikely, and mine is probably the conservative view of an old man. I’ve already heard from a few not ready to give up their horses.

      I will say this, and I believe it will be possible when I am too old to drive: My car will sense that I am not responding and take me to the hospital.

      While, of course, many may find this “socialistic” or something, putting large numbers of these in use via tax money instead of using it to build more useless, congested from opening day, and dangerous freeways would benefit the old, the poor, and the handicapped in ways nothing else can. I am generally conservative, but I’d be happy to contribute to a goal like that.

  2. John says:

    Yes you can bet your life that the word “socialism” will rear it’s ugly head, and that would be a shame, but that is the nature of anything designed to better the majority. I’m not of any political persuassion myself, and can see many good things in most types of governance, equally there are many bad things in most, if not all. My concern is for the future of this world, but not neccesarily mankind, we are the cause of the problems, and I don’t believe we will be allowed to be the cure unless the vested interest of a small minority is ignored. There are too many in power who are living for today and couldn’t give a hoot about anything other than the almighty $$, and ignoring them will not be allowed. It’s a shame that one parasitic species has managed to rule this beautiful blue orb, and rule it in what is basically the blink of an eye in geological terms. The universe will not even hic-cup, nor will the Earth should we go into extinction, something that is more likely to come about than the progress I like to envision. I hope that dosnt reek of pessimism, because I am not a pessimist by nature. I look forward to the future regardless.

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