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Science Technology

How Will We Get Around Near-Future Earth? 974

Posted by timothy
from the cold-fusion-hybrid-flying-recumbent-bikes dept.
Slob Nerd points to this BBC article on future transport possibilities. It begins "The prospect of a revolution in air travel has been raised by Nasa's successful test of a 5,000mph plane. But are we likely to see similar advances in other forms of transport? Dusting off the crystal ball, what changes might come in the way we get around? What big ideas are out there, and do they have any chance of seeing the light of day?"
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How Will We Get Around Near-Future Earth?

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  • by Valar (167606) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:38PM (#8722195)
    it'll be safe to say it isn't the segway... :P
  • by richardoz (529837) * on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:38PM (#8722200) Homepage
    you insensitive clod...
    • by Vancorps (746090) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:42PM (#8722230)
      I wanna talk on my cell phone while reading a news paper with one foot out my door while I drive a flying car!
    • by Sevn (12012) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:45PM (#8722251) Homepage Journal
      Considering the morons they let drive cars, the only way I'd feel safe driving the friendly skies would be if:

      1) Manditory intelligence testing
      2) Manditory hand eye coordination testing
      3) Manditory reaction time testing
      4) Hardcore schooling and licensing program
      5) Very intense vehicle licensing and inspection program

      I don't want to share the skies with the same people that drive beat to shit, oil burning cameros from the late 70's if they are going to drive a similar sky vehicle. By that same token, I DEFINITELY don't want to share the skies with your typical hunched over florida driver behind the wheel of a shit insane scary swerving winged cadillac.
      • by BlueCup (753410) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:53PM (#8722324) Homepage Journal
        1) Mandatory intelligence testing

        I don't want people driving that can't spell.

        All apologies if this is a spelling accepted in other countries.
      • by Vancorps (746090) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:56PM (#8722342)
        Sorry, but intelligence has nothing to do with many of the problems on the roads today. There are idiots that drive quite safely and geniuses that are space cadets.

        Only way to work is to eliminate a computer at the controls. A central traffic grid would be hard to setup but once created could be very efficient at selecting routes to destinations. When you arrive at the address you specify getting in the car then you can point to a more precise location or tell the car to park itself. If you have no specific destination you could tell the car to just cruise.

        • Posted by Vancorps

          Sorry, but intelligence has nothing to do with many of the problems on the roads today

          You clearly don't have facts to back that up. I recall reading a blurb in Science about a study which showed exactly the opposite of your claim, there is indeed a correlation between IQ and driving. A quick google search and I found a reference to that study:

          An item in www.sciencemag.org on "The Practical Benefits of General Intelligence" says "people who score poorly on IQ tests also have more accid

        • by utexaspunk (527541) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @03:50AM (#8723427)
          A central traffic grid would be hard to setup but once created could be very efficient at selecting routes to destinations

          I don't know about you, but I know that I don't want my primary means of transport centralized. Just too much opportunity for badness there.

          How about we just work on cars that can drive themselves independently in the midst of humans driving their cars? That's the only way we can gradually transition to a computerized system, anyway. Once a sufficient majority of drivers have self-driving cars, we can start declaring lanes "computerized cars only", and then gradually phase out un-automated cars.

          Once we have decent self-driving cars, a whole new way of life emerges- how about ordering stuff off the internet and having it delivered automatically? No more need for stores, really, at that point... Little motorcycle-sized auto-delivery bots cruising all around?

          I could go downtown and have my car drop me off somewhere and park itself, or maybe I'll just have a taxi service that I can summon near-instantaneously with my phone/PDA, and then it can go serve someone else when it drops me off. I would imagine it would alter the shape of suburbia drastically, as well. I could live in the middle of nowhere and get around just as efficiently as if I lived in the heart of the city...
      • by A.T. Hun (192737) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:57PM (#8722352)
        You forgot

        6) I would be allowed to have air-to-air missiles
    • by QuaZar666 (164830) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:07AM (#8722428)
      I will give you the flying car under one condition.

      http://www.viewaskew.com/tv/leno/flyingcar.html

    • by Epeeist (2682) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @03:21AM (#8723324) Homepage
      The era of flying cars started in Britain about 2010. The Smart car [thesmart.co.uk] company was the progenitor, essentially by adding a pair of wings to its lightweight vehicle. The introduction was timely, in that the minority coalition of Conservative and New Labour parties, under their "Privatise everything" policy were introducing tolls on all roads. The flying car avoided this by not using roads at all.

      The concept quickly spread to Europe, causing the Channel Tunnel company to become bankrupt.

      The idea was imported to America but was a distinct failure. Although the country would have seemed ideal for such an invention the inability of American companies to make a "Flying Humvee" that would do more than half a mile on full fuel load meant that it never caught on.
  • High speed trains (Score:5, Interesting)

    by s0rbix (629316) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:39PM (#8722205)
    I'd like to see more high speed trains in the US. It's a lot more economical than air travel, can be just as fast (with aiport wait times and all), and is just as if not safer than flying.
    • by dustmote (572761) <fleck55&hotmail,com> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:43PM (#8722237) Homepage Journal
      I have also heard it suggested that doing so would probably create many jobs in the US as the building and operations infrastructure was being put into place, not to mention the increased commerce between disparate parts of the US. I don't know the validity of these claims, but they seem reasonable enough. A good kick in the pants for us USicans economy if true, no? I don't see it being very easy to get widespread support with the current power structure, though.
      • by Ian Bicking (980) <ianb&colorstudy,com> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:36AM (#8722608) Homepage
        Damn straight! I'd rather we throw money at infrastructure than at insanely expensive and stupid military projects. At least then we, as a society, will get something out of it. Ditto farm subsidies -- pay people to make infrastructure, not to sit on their butt, or worse pay them to waste energy making ethanol.

        Hell, at least during the Depression the WPA made useful things... things that are still around today. It was really all busy work from an economic point of view, but from a societal view it had some use. Why can't someone propose that for an economic plan? Even if it doesn't boost the economy, at least it does something.

      • by ArsSineArtificio (150115) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:58AM (#8722748) Homepage
        I have also heard it suggested that doing so would probably create many jobs in the US as the building and operations infrastructure was being put into place, not to mention the increased commerce between disparate parts of the US. I don't know the validity of these claims, but they seem reasonable enough. A good kick in the pants for us USicans economy if true, no?

        Setting aside the idiotic abbreviation "USicans" (hint: the proper term for citizens of the United States of America is "Americans", for citizens of the United States of Mexico is "Mexicans", etc.)...

        Although its passenger rail system could be accurately described as "completely useless" everywhere outside the coastal strip between Washington DC and Boston, the freight rail system of the USA is generally considered amongst the world's finest. With its already developed state, and tight integration with roadway freight, it's difficult to imagine in what way commerce between disparate parts of the US could be "increased" by building more rail links.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:45PM (#8722257)

      "I'd like to see more high speed trains in the US"

      But General Motors doesn't want to see that in the U.S...

      • by lpret (570480)
        Neither do the oil companies...
    • by big!theory (678960) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:59PM (#8722367)

      the jury is out on whether high speed rail systems are economical. the fingers are typically pointed at systems in Europe or Asia that aren't analogous to the geography and population density of much of the United States.

      part of the cost and inefficiency of air travel is caused by our hub-and-spoke air network system. this forces a lot of connections and short hops that could be unnecessary.

      James Fallows wrote an interesting book about the very-near future of air travel. He makes the case that we need smaller regional airports and smaller high efficiency jets. These would allow many of us to make direct city-to-city flights without the need to go thru congested hub cities.

      Check out Fallow's Free Flight at Amazon. Free Flight [amazon.com]
      • by xheotris (628655) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:37AM (#8722927)
        I've heard the Free Flight theories... I know NASA's been pouring money into it.

        It's a waste. As someone in the aviation industry, I'll tell you it's a crock and a waste of taxpayer and corporate R&D dollars, though it doesn't have to be. Light jets... does anyone KNOW what the cost of maintaining an aircraft, let alone a TURBINE aircraft is? You can't just get parts at AutoZone and let some yokel install them. And turbines ain't cheap!! A Cessna 172 burns about 9 gallons of fuel per hour (gph), or 54 pph. A light jet engine powering an aircraft that could carry a similar load would burn at least to 150-200pph. (20-25 gph, a figure quoted for a proposed jet using the Williams International FJX-2). Furthermore, that's at altitude-- tubines are very inefficient at altitudes below 29,000 feet. And if you're making small hops, you spend a lot of time dinking around below FL290.

        Secondly, consider why the cost of general aviation has skyrocketed after September 11, 2001. Fuel doesn't cost much more, nor do aircraft, nor hangars nor landing fees. Insurance is the cause of the rise. And insurance for TURBINE aircraft is higher, much higher. Insurance for single-pilot turbine ops is insanely high, because turbine acft are both complex and very fast. Complexity and speed mean you can get behind the aircraft much, much more easily. Having an autopilot doesn't mean a thing, because what kills people now is getting behind on the damn button-pushing and forgetting to FLY the aircraft. Pilots spend too much time head-down, programming, and not paying attention to where they are and what the plane is doing.

        I haven't heard ANYONE credible address how the insurance companies will treat a new generation of unproven light jets that fly random courses across the country, landing at small airports, and that are designed to be flown by ordinary owner-operators instead of professional pilots.

        Third, where will we fly these things? We're currently revamping airspace above FL290 to increase the capacity of the system, and this requires a LOT of new (read: expensive) equipment for DRVSM. Oh, and one other thing: You can't just hop in a jet and fly away- you MUST have a type rating, and those generally cost about $10,000 and require more smarts than driving your Lexus to Starbucks for coffee. New transportation scheme? Only for the insanely rich. Free Flight is a lame duck in my book.
    • Re:High speed trains (Score:5, Interesting)

      by UniverseIsADoughnut (170909) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:06AM (#8722423)
      I agree Highspeed trains will be nice. But even the fastest trains still are far slower then getting on a airplane to go cross country. Also the US is simpley huge. Think of how long Europe has been working on their train networks, both slow and highspeed. Now think of the US which barrly has any train network, and then finaly remember the US is bigger then all of Europe. It could take 100 years to get close to what other countries have. Also to be effective it needs to get to every town, which is really hard to do when everything is so spaced out. In areas where one city bumps into the next they work much better.

      No the flip side, trains are great expecialy if they come by all the time and you can just go down and buy a ticket and get on. That would be great. Also since I hate planes I would love them. I'm a mechanical engineer, I just can't deal with planes. All the way through college everything seamed to be about how airplaces fail, and riding in them I over-think ever sound they make. So I would love trains, the price has to be right though. I saw something saying a Acela (sp?) train ticket from DC-Boston was like 280 bucks, (note this could be wrong, it was something like that). Thats crazy. I would expect it to not be more then 30 bucks or so. If trains arn't dirt cheap it won't work. It shouldn't cost the same as a airplane ticket.

      Now here is something else. Planes have numbered days unless they come up with something. Planes need fuels like Kerosene and Diesel, that is, heavy hydrocarbons. Without such energy dense fuels they can't get off the ground. There is a limited supply of fossil fuels. It's projected to run out at any moment in the next 20-400 years (yes thats was making fun of dooms day predictions). Without such fuels airplanes are screwed. You can make fuel like Fisher Tropes Diesel, but that takes a lot of energy and isn't very clean to produce. It's hard enough to make the cost number works for planes as is, double the cost of fuel and hell really breaks loose.

      So as it stands now planes are screwed in the future, thus why most things talking about the future don't mention planes. You can't make an electric plane that would go very fast. And to power it you'd need a nuclear reactor up there. This makes you wonder what we will do for trans-ocean travel.

      So even though trains will be a bitch to move to and take a long time, they might just happen do to no other good answer.
      • Re:High speed trains (Score:5, Informative)

        by Cecil (37810) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:26AM (#8722897) Homepage
        Planes need fuels like Kerosene and Diesel, that is, heavy hydrocarbons. Without such energy dense fuels they can't get off the ground.

        That's just plain silly. First of all, they're not 'heavy' hydrocarbons. Many, if not most space launchers have used kerosene as a fuel, including the Saturn series of rockets. They use it because it's a particularly light fuel. Liquid Hydrogen + Liquid Oxygen is better, but requires a lot of cryogenic equipment and has only come into style in the past couple decades.

        Planes, on the other hand, have much much much less restrictive fuel requirements because they get remarkable amounts of lift from the atmosphere, whereas a rocket has to brute-force its way up against gravity directly. Planes don't need any particular fuel at all to fly in many cases (See: gliders, hanggliders, etc) and if you want sustained flight, it's quite possible to pedal wherever you want to go (until you get tired, which'll be quickly!)

        Admittedly, neither of those methods will get you anywhere fast, but the point is, that planes don't "need" this superpowered fuel any more than your car "has to have" gasoline. Well yes, it does, but only because it's so abundant at the moment that we don't have any motivation to look for something different.

        There are all sorts of possibilities for building high-speed airplane without using fossil fuels. Hydrogen comes immediately to mind as nearly a drop-in replacement for the fuels in turbojet engines. It's already being used in the scramjet engine, you'll notice. But why stop there? Alternatives abound, consider a ground-based catapult launch system to get the plane up to a reasonable velocity, then just coast with some conventional prop engines until you arrive at the destination. Perhaps more research into the phenomenon that powers the high-voltage tinfoil lifters that kooks claim are anti-gravity machines will yield a new type of economical atmospheric propulsion?

        Be a bit more creative. (And don't complain that these may be more expensive than current fuels: If we run out of fossil fuels, everything will be doubling in price and then some, so you'll get used to it.)
        • any more than your car "has to have" gasoline.

          Yeah. :) Ethanol is a near drop-in replacement for gasoline (requiring only timing and mixture adjustments in most cars, and in newer cars that means replacing the computer).

          Just to make a small point, though, running out of fossil fuels isn't going to make them more expensive. Peaking worldwide is what's going to make them more expensive, because after oil drilling peaks, there won't be any growth in oil production, but the growth in demand will continue t

        • Alternatives abound, consider a ground-based catapult launch system to get the plane up to a reasonable velocity

          Wait a minute. I've heard of this. It's called Elbonian airlines. But where would we find enough mud to make the landings soft?
    • Re:High speed trains (Score:5, Informative)

      by Ironica (124657) <pixel.boondock@org> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:28AM (#8722557) Journal
      It's a lot more economical than air travel, can be just as fast (with aiport wait times and all), and is just as if not safer than flying.

      Unfortunately, it's not necessarily more economical.

      Believe me, I much, much prefer rail to air. It's far more comfy, safer, and the view is better. But a study (done in 1996 by David Levinson) of the proposed California High Speed Rail system for the Los Angeles to San Francisco corridor found that the costs per trip, compared to air travel, will be about double. That includes externalized costs, such as fuel emissions and noise. The proposed HSR system would even be more expensive than driving.

      The good news is, a much, much higher ratio of the costs are internalized in those figures. That means that passengers would be bearing almost the full costs of their journey, unlike highway and air journeys where more costs are externalized.

      The numbers go like this:
      ..........Internal...External...Total
      Highway...135........21.........156
      Air.......77.5.......4.5........82
      HSR.......157.65.....1.35.......159

      That's in dollars per passenger. (I tried to make it legible. I'm afraid it's in /.'s hands now.)

      Now, Levinson [umn.edu] is very hung up on the enormous capital cost of building the system, so he is possibly incorporating debt maintenance into those cost figures. However, the location I'm citing (which is a PDF of a class lecture presentation) references "fuel costs," so that may be the only consideration. (That seems unlikely, though, since it costs a lot less than $135 to fill your tank twice for the drive up to the Bay Area.)
    • by MtViewGuy (197597) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:49AM (#8722971)
      I think for high speed trains to work in the USA, you want trains that have to be really fast.

      The thing about the USA is that because of the sheer physical size of the country, steel-wheel trains are not going to be practical for travel beyond 275-300 miles between your origin and destination points. At speeds over 186 mph (300 km/h), the physical contact of steel wheels with steel rails and the overhead wiring will cause considerable wear on the trainset on large-scale revenue service. I don't expect steel-wheel trains to be travelling much faster than 330 km/h in the long run.

      For the type of distances involved in the USA, it's time to finally do a major development program to make maglev trains economically practical. Since maglevs could travel as fast as 310 mph (500 km/h) relatively easily without attendant wear on tracks and/or the trainset (since there is no physical contact), this makes it possible for journeys between even relatively widely-spaced apart cities in well under two hours; imagine going from Chicago to Minneapolis-Saint Paul in just over a hour! :-)

      Maglevs may not be necessary in Europe and Japan given the relatively short distances between major population centers, but here in the USA, the extra speed to shorten travel times is a very good idea.
  • by ePhil_One (634771) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:40PM (#8722213) Journal
    Star Trek style Transporters. The government has them in secret underground bases, but the aliens dont want us to know about them, so they force the government to keep them hidden.
  • by EugeneK (50783) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:41PM (#8722222) Homepage Journal
    One thing is clear; in America no one will walk. It will be too dangerous - if you aren't run over by an SUV, suffocated by smog, you'll collapse from a heart attack because you weigh 300 pounds and you're body can't take the exertion.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:47PM (#8722279)
      Take that back! I'm American, and I'm a trim 240!
    • by Vancorps (746090) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:51PM (#8722304)
      Or maybe we can be like China [weeklyworldnews.com] and ban walking and force everyone to run!

      Solve any congestion problems and improve the health of citizens at the same time. Seems like a great idea to me

    • Re:Not by walking (Score:5, Insightful)

      by YOU LIKEWISE FAIL IT (651184) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:57AM (#8722743) Homepage Journal

      I know it's a joke, but I think that foot travel really has potential for the future. As urban density increases, you'd think that the general short-haul travel requirements of individual citizens would diminish until their usual haunts ( the office, the local supermarket, the pub ) were within striking distance of their feet.

      When you're on foot, you don't need to:

      • Park
      • Buy gas
      • Divert around minor obstacles
      • Really pay that much attention to your surroundings
      You can watch the local eye candy and it improves fitness levels at the same time. I do most of my regular travel on foot, and I don't understand why more people don't get into it.
      • Re:Not by walking (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cgenman (325138)
        I think you hit on the big reason for alternative transportation in cities.

        Parking

        The North End in Boston is one the of the best places in the United States to get truly amazing Italian food, but don't bring the car. You'll generally spend an hour circling around, only to find a spot so far away that you're basically home. Chinatown isn't quite that bad, but don't bother bringing a car on Friday Night. And anyone who wants to park on Newbury street had better have either a ton of patience or a Commer
  • Good ol' days (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Stevyn (691306) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:41PM (#8722227)
    Can't we just ride bikes and enjoy the scenery rather than fly past it at 5000 Mph?
  • by paulschroeder (757739) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:42PM (#8722235)
    a hoverboard a la Back to the Future II.
  • by DrunkenTerror (561616) * on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:43PM (#8722239) Homepage Journal
    How about building cities so you can walk or ride a bike to where you need to go, instead of building strictly for car-sized vehicular traffic?

    Have you ever tried to walk to the mall?

    • Have you ever tried to walk to the mall?

      More importantly, have you everr tried to bike to the mall? I tried taking my bicycle out around my house a few weeks ago, and nearly got run over Three(!) times just trying to go around the block! Of course, it doesn't help that there are no bike lanes, and that because of drivers who don't pay attention you have to use the pedestrian crossings in order to cross the street...
    • How about building cities so you can walk or ride a bike to where you need to go, instead of building strictly for car-sized vehicular traffic?

      I live in Manhattan and do not have a car. I walk everywhere or take the subway, since everything I need is so close, and even if I did have a car driving in this traffic would be aggravating and expensive besides. It works fine, but I really miss the Good Old Days(TM) when I lived in suburban environments and had a car.

      - Purchasing large objects: In a carless c
  • Out where? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Kenja (541830) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:43PM (#8722241)
    I dont go outside now, why should the future be any different?
  • by cbreaker (561297) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:44PM (#8722245) Journal
    The only thing I really see coming to market are more effecient cars. There's already some, but there will start to be more alternative fuel cars at some point. Of course, there's no infrastructure for supplying these alternatives.

    All the recent talk of alternative (to automobiles) transportation has been sparked by the high gas prices. It's not because we're short on gas, it's because of the oil cartels. If we switch to an alternative fuel, do you think these people will sit back and just watch their industry crumble? No, they will be the ones controlling the alternative fuel markets too.. So in the end it won't make a damned but of difference as long as they are around.

  • Shorter distances? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by awgriff279 (624548) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:45PM (#8722262) Homepage
    Speed is sexy, of course, but what about just bringing things closer together? Replacing urban sprawl with accomodating (not communist) apartment complexes would be one step towards making a commute faster. What new technologies would make this more possible?
    • by realmolo (574068) *
      Urban sprawl isn't a technological problem.

      People like their space, in the U.S. especially. And we have LOTS of space left. Things are just going to get more and more spread out.

      In fact, any kind of revolution in transportation increases this effect. Imagine if we had working teleportation- people could live anywhere they wanted to (well, that had basic utilities). The population of the world would be completely spread out.


      p.s.- read Alfred Bester's SF novel "The Stars My Destination", where tele
      • by Ironica (124657) <pixel.boondock@org> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:19AM (#8722861) Journal
        People like their space, in the U.S. especially. And we have LOTS of space left. Things are just going to get more and more spread out.

        It's true that people like their space. But, with most things that people like, demand raises the price. There *is* a cost to providing people that space, and currently, we externalize most of that cost.

        "Smart growth" policies that simply require new development to pay for new infrastructure are a great starting point. Houses out in the boonies are much cheaper per square foot, and not just because of land prices and lack of cleanup issues... currently, most municipalities shell out to bring sewers, roads, and schools to greenfield developments. By simply removing this subsidy, we can go a long way to equalizing the costs of greenfield and infill development.

        Transportation is too cheap, also. We subsidize private auto use very heavily. In 2000, California collected only 1/3 of road and highway maintenance/operating expenditures from gas taxes, registration fees, and truck fees combined. Compared to that, a 27% average farebox recovery ratio for all California public transit properties doesn't sound *quite* so bad. Making people pay some of the external costs for those 50-mile commutes would make condos and smaller lots in the city a lot more attractive.

        read Alfred Bester's SF novel "The Stars My Destination", where teleportation and it's effects on society is a major theme. And, it happens to be arguably the best SF novel ever.

        I evangelize all my fellow Transportation Planning students to read that book. It's a really great thought experiment on the role of transportation in our society and economy.
    • by Skim123 (3322) <mitchell.4guysfromrolla@com> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:42AM (#8722648) Homepage
      I live in a part of San Diego [pacificbeach.org] where they've taken your suggestion to the extreme. For 50 square city blocks, you have either:

      • Typical commercial buildings (grocery store and the like)
      • Tattoo parlor or bar
      • Apartment building or duplex or condo building (a single building with typically 5-10 units).

      And I'm not kidding about the 50 square blocks of nothing but the above. Literally, you walk several blocks in any direction and it's condo building next to condo building next to condo building next to apartment building next to condo building. No big yards. No single family homes.

      What's the result? It's packed. If you don't have off street parking, try finding a spot after 5:00 pm on the weekdays, or on the weekends at all. (It's a hot spot for 4th of July, and my first year here I foolishly gave up my spot to drive (!!!) to the grocery store when I could have walked. It ended up that I had to park more than half a mile from my place upon returning.) It's populated primarily by college students and 20-somethings. Being in that demographic myself, I have no qualms, but my biggest complaint is that they're mostly renters so they don't give a damn about the area. So it's not uncommon to find several beer cans / beer bottles on the street/sidewalk after a Friday/Saturday night. Plus, it can be very loud at very late hours (thankfully I live on a cul-de-sac on the quiet side of town, so it's only noisy maybe once a month, when the folks in a neighboring condo unit throw a party).

      I am here, though, because I love it. Not the noise, or pollution, but the beach (less than 1 mile away) and the feeling of the town. Everything is walkable. I walk to restaraunts, to the grocery store, to the drug store, to the office supply store, to Blockbuster, to the dry cleaners, to the bar, to the 7-11, to the beach, and to the basketball courts. I've had my car out here for close to four years now and have put less than 25,000 miles on it since moving here.

      The point is, being crammed together does have its advantages, but it also comes with a slew of disadvantages as well (increased noise, pollution, etc.). Also, most Americans really like large living spaces, and who can blame them? I'd love a huge house with acres of back yard, but that's not affordable here (a two bedroom condo, 1,200 square feet, would likely go between $400k-$500k). I own a place in a condo building with 7 units. I have 1,050 square feet to my name. It's ok, it's just me and my fiancee for now, but it would be tough to raise a family in such cramped quarters. I fear we'll have to move further inland to more of a typical suburban type place once we start a family...

    • one word: (Score:5, Funny)

      by Tumbleweed (3706) * on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:52AM (#8722709)
      Arcology
  • Real men... (Score:3, Funny)

    by 222 (551054) <stormseeker@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:46PM (#8722270) Homepage
    Real men travel via |
  • by pipingguy (566974) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:46PM (#8722275) Homepage

    Pipeline Monorail [slashdot.org] anyone?

    [1] My apologies to Bill Cosby's Shelby Cobra routine.
  • Faster planes? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SetarconeX (160251) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:50PM (#8722297)
    The last time I checked, commercial airplanes in the US weren't allowed to fly past the speed of sound to prevent sonic booms (which, incidently, growing up next to an Air Force base, I can tell you is really something you get used to quickly).

    The way I see it, my getting across the country isn't a matter of airplanes not being able to go faster, it's airplanes not being allowed to go faster.

    Now, a couple of Maglevs might be nice....
  • by sisukapalli1 (471175) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:52PM (#8722319)
    Some sort of AI based network of vehicles that are available on demand (the nearest parked car will come to you -- or to the nearest "junction"). No one needs to "own" a vehicle. They will all be safe too.

    Oh, that, and cities rising vertically instead of horizontally via suburban sprawl, leading to afforable housing for all.

    S
    • Robotic taxis (Score:3, Interesting)

      by erice (13380)
      Some sort of AI based network of vehicles that are available on demand (the nearest parked car will come to you -- or to the nearest "junction"). No one needs to "own" a vehicle. They will all be safe too.

      Functionally, we have that today. They are called taxi's. Of course they are operated by humans rather than AI's so the cost is rather high. Still, I think it is clear that you need quite lot of density to make this reasonably cheap and convenient.
  • by ctime (755868) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:56PM (#8722339)
    The number one reason why we don't have flying cars: People would have to fly them. Anyone who's ever had to drive more than day in their life knows what im talking about.
    • by NeMon'ess (160583) <<flinxmid> <at> <yahoo.com>> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:19AM (#8722857) Homepage Journal
      The answer lies in waiting for AI to mature enough to drive cars / planes automatically. All the vehicles communicate with some form of wireless. Perhaps some centralized computers analyze traffic. Many sensors per vehicle monitor parts for degradation, like SMART does for hard drives. Deteriorating vehicles are allowed more space and eventually must seek maintainance. Otherwise they are not allowed in the Autopilot Lanes on the freeways or skyways. To prevent aircars from crashing and cluttering the sky, cars would still stay in sky-lanes. North / South traffic might be at 1000 meters. North-East / South-West traffic at 1200 meters. East / West traffic at 1400 meters... Sky-interstates from Seattle to Portland on to Sacramento, Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego at 2000 meters.
  • by gloth (180149) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:00AM (#8722370)
    ...is that the actual flight is only a small part of the trip.

    I, for one, live near the Raleigh/Durham [rdu.com] airport. My next trip will be to New Orleans. With standard planes, that's a flight time of maybe 2 hours and a bit. But what about my trip, as it is?

    • Driving to the airport: 0:10
    • Parking, waiting for shuttle to bring me to the terminal: 0:20
    • Checking in, security, waiting, boarding: 1:00
    • Flying to Charlotte: 1:00
    • Waiting for connecting flight: 1:10
    • Flying to New Orleans: 2:10
    • Waiting for baggage, shuttle: 0:40
    • Drive to French Quarter: 0:30
    So, now the grand total is: 7 hours. If I was on a jet that can reach Mach 7, and would be allowed to do so over land, how much time would this really save? In this example, maybe something between 1 and 2 hours. So, I save about 20 percent of my travel time. Big deal. Having a direct flight, as I still had in 2001, would have saved me more.

    So, fast planes are nice and all, and if your idea of a commute is from LA to Tokyo, this is splendid news for you. For the rest of us, faster planes are a nice solution... just not for our problem.

    For what it's worth: this simple math is also the reason why Boeing's planned SonicCruiser didn't get anyone really excited.

  • No more cars (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aardvarkjoe (156801) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:02AM (#8722383)
    Cars are inefficient and dangerous. In any moderately sized city (1 million or more), the infrastructure is enormous and yet is still inadequate -- gridlock occurs everywhere with annoying frequency. Cars are expensive to buy and maintain. They produce more than their share of pollution. Whatever the future of transportation is, I'm quite sure that we will see much less reliance on individual cars, and much more on mass transit.
    • Re:No more cars (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MourningBlade (182180) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @04:41AM (#8723561) Homepage

      I think that private transportation will remain the norm. The emphasis on ownership, of your transportation being your property, is very strong in the US.

      One of the other problems with mass transportation is that we seem to have "mass transportation = government operated" embedded in our minds. This is a real problem in car-oriented places, as people who don't use mass transit don't want to pay for it, and gov't operation somehow seems to lead to collective payment/subsidy.

      Maybe if we had some sort of efficient delivery method for packages, faster than the mail. So you could go shopping and your purchase would be home before/as you got back. Maybe then there wouldn't be such an emphasis on private transportation.

  • car sharing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by primus_sucks (565583) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:04AM (#8722405)
    I know this is starting to come to some cities, but it would be great to be more widespread. Why should every person pay hundreds or dollars a month for a car they only use 10% of the time? If everyone just shared cars we could cut down the number of cars needed and also would create opportunities for car-pooling. It would cut down on US dependancy on foreign oil and help bring world peace.
  • by a1cypher (619776) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:13AM (#8722473) Homepage
    It seems to me that alot of people arent putting much thought into these Hydrogen powered car alternatives.

    Sure, their only biproduct is H2O, but the hydrogen has to come from somewhere. It takes quite a bit of power to get H2 via electrolysis of water. And all that power has to come from somewhere.

    Hydrogen powered cars wouldnt really be more environmentally friendly, it would just make the consumer believe it is by shifting the responsibility from the consumer to the company in charge of generating the H2.
    • See, hydrogen isn't a fuel. It's a great way to store energy, though. The thing with gasoline heat engines is that they are only about 40% efficient, but a gas power plant can be like 80% efficient. That's why H2 cars would be sweet. Ideally we would get out electricity from somewhere else (it's such a shame that plutonium is so toxic).
  • Cars With AutoFollow (Score:3, Informative)

    by superid (46543) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:20AM (#8722516) Homepage
    In the next 5 years we will see cars introduced with viable "autofollow" where a car will know it's relative position in traffic and be able to safely autopilot itself. Toyota is already demonstrating it here [msn.com]

  • Bicycles (Score:5, Insightful)

    by crush (19364) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:22AM (#8722525)

    In the not too distant future there will be futile attempts to halt our greenhouse gas emissions as the evidence mounts [greenpeace.org] that we're facing a problem. These will possibly involve the most mechanically efficient short-range vehicle (the bicycle) for all those trips under 2 miles (to the video store etc) that we all take in urban centers.

    "When I see an adult on a bicycle I do not despair for the future of the human race." - H.G.Wells
  • SciFi ways (Score:5, Funny)

    by gmuslera (3436) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:27AM (#8722553) Homepage Journal
    The nice thing about that is that a new discover could put them nearer than we think.
    • Transporters a la Star Trek, or another way of instant transportation could be cool, but we must get rid of those damn flys.
    • Wormholes thru earth! Cool! You could be in another place in seconds, and the rest of the world also! (is bad luck that that "another place" is called hell).
    • If an orbital elevator is done, why not build a ring around the world with elevators going up and down in strategical places? You could take an elevator, round around the earth, and descend in the other side of the world with almost cost zero and probably pretty fast.
    • Brain switching (i think i saw a movie about that last days :) upload your brain to someone's else brain, do what you have to do in the other side of the world and reswich to go back. The risk is with who you made the switch.
    • Duplicators: what if with certain process, an exact copy of you can emerge hundreds of miles away and do what you need to do? (well, unless you want to take vacations). The problem is what you do after with your clones (at least in Rogue Moon Algys Budrys had a solution)
    • Why use cars? just use rolling roads and people could go everywhere.
    • Last but not least: why travel? if everywhere exist good bandwidth, maybe most tasks could be done remotely and with voip and videoconferences the need to be in other places could be relative. And if you want to travel to rest, going slow will be better than going fast.
  • Light Rail (Score:3, Informative)

    by orion024 (694922) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:30AM (#8722573)
    Here in Houston, the 4th largest city in the U.S., we JUST got our first light rail. Yes, our first. And sadly, additional funding for the program barely passed.

    The light rail opened the 1st of the year. So we are just coming to 3 months of service... and guess what? We've already had 31 accidents involving the light rail. That's one practically every 3 days... so sad, so very very sad. Apparently, people don't understand the concept of "don't stop on the tracks" and "don't turn in front of the train" here.

    Houston has some of the poorest public transportation I have ever seen. But, I have to admit, the light rail is a step in the right direction. Right now, I spend over 2 hours a day in my car... and this is for a commute of only 18miles each way. Hopefully, they will expand the light rail. Building and expanding more highways is _not_ a solution. Fortunately, the light rail seem to service a rather large volume, and has been well recieved. Too bad the expansions are going to take 10 years+ to complete.
  • by Baldrson (78598) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:32AM (#8722582) Homepage Journal
    Foresight Exchange's "SOorb" claim [ideosphere.com] reads as follows:
    Claim Sorb - Suborbital transport dominates Category: Science & Technology:Space

    bid 41, ask 44, last 42

    Suborbital transportation will exceed high-mach air transportation by the year 2020. "Suborbital" means any high-mach, non-orbital flight where the majority of the distance is covered without benefit of locally available gasses as the primary propulsion reaction mass. "High-mach" means the majority of the distance is covered at a speed of mach 2.5 or greater. "Non-orbital" means the total flight path distance is less than the circumfrence of the earth. "Locally available" excludes gasses that have been stored within the vehicle for more than 3 minutes. The metric for comparison will include passenger, luggage and cargo ton-miles over the entirety of the year 2020 as published in standard industry surveys.

  • by core plexus (599119) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:35AM (#8722602) Homepage
    From the section about Jet Packs: "They will be handy for retrieving cats from trees, cleaning hard-to-reach windows and arriving in style at a party."

    Think about it: have you ever seen a cat skeleton in a tree? They find their own way down. Firefighters around here don't even respond to one of those calls.

    -cp-

  • Paradigm shift... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Genda (560240) <mariet.got@net> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:20AM (#8722865) Journal
    I think we're addicted to the wrong questions...

    The question should be how are we going to support a world with 10,000,000,000 people in it, while maintaining some semblance of quality of life. This idea of half a billion people in the U.S. going anywhere they feel like, any time they feel like, each in their own vehicle, which if by current standards continues is 7 feet high, 18 feet long, weighs 12 tons, sleeps 10, and get's 8 MPG, is at best insane. It ignores sanity on so many fundamental levels, I'm not even going to bother listing.

    Designing living habitats that provide people with clean, safe, lawful, aesthetically pleasing environments, that are high density and preclude the need to travel more than a few hundred meters to receive/deliver any needed service, would immeditely transform our society. At that point the edge of the metroplex, might provide a variety of transportation for folk going to and from other island cities. The metroplex is a three dimensional hive, with business, housing, and recreation all built tightly into an interactive, engineered space, with little or no impact on the surrounding land. This allows people instant access to everything they need from work to pleasure... while only being minutes away from wild spaces they can visit and enjoy. Literally tens of millions of people can exist in a tiny hive like city. A place that has been optimized for crime prevention, cleanliness, well lit open airy spaces. In short a perfect controlled environment.

    High speed rail, tube, or supercomputer networked controlled superconducting ribbon highways could easily manage regional transport. Ultra high speed air travel would be useful for travel to distant regions or other continents. Cable travel to geosynced space depots could carry passengers to cities on the moon, mars, callisto, europa, and ganymede. As well they might carry asteroid miners and their products to and from earth.

    Even horseback becomes a viable form of transport into the natural spaces surrounding the cities (horses being highly efficient for that particular use... hover cars, like the Moller being viable for trips longer than a days horseback ride.) One might even relegate such vehicles to rental only since anyplace in the hive could be accessed in minutes by people movers and other metroplexs could be accessed by mass transit.

    Any given form of transportation would only be viable depending on it's speed and efficiency. Each would inherently be designed and optimized to operate in a specific level of social/geographical granularity.

    The tremedous advantage in societal cost, safety, improved environment, ease of living, efficiency, and quality of life would make living in such a place, a slice of heaven. Enhanced taxbase, with tremendously reduced cost of living, would allow money to be available for fantastic free schools, enhanced medical care, and a gorgeous, sparkling infrastructure. Who wants to move in? I know I do!

    Genda
    • by Un pobre guey (593801) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:44AM (#8722951) Homepage
      Very imaginative! Unfortunately, this claim is unsustainable:

      The tremedous advantage in societal cost, safety, improved environment, ease of living, efficiency, and quality of life would make living in such a place, a slice of heaven. Enhanced taxbase, with tremendously reduced cost of living, would allow money to be available for fantastic free schools, enhanced medical care, and a gorgeous, sparkling infrastructure.

      Your world would be incredibly expensive to build, and the "enhanced taxbase" is almost certainly a mirage. For society to pay for such huge and expensive infarstructure and expect a "tremendously reduced cost of living" is a non sequitur from the start.

      The greatest problem would come from high population density. The cost of sewage, water, power, and so on for such large and dense habitats would be very high. Densely populated areas tend to be high in crime and low on "crime prevention, cleanliness, well lit open airy spaces."

      Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly agree with your initial premise:

      The question should be how are we going to support a world with 10,000,000,000 people in it, while maintaining some semblance of quality of life. This idea of half a billion people in the U.S. going anywhere they feel like, any time they feel like, each in their own vehicle, which if by current standards continues is 7 feet high, 18 feet long, weighs 12 tons, sleeps 10, and get's 8 MPG, is at best insane. It ignores sanity on so many fundamental levels, I'm not even going to bother listing.

  • by kenjib (729640) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:20AM (#8722868)
    I hope that the automobile will go down as one of the great engineering disasters of history and a strange historical footnote. While the infrastructure impact has been massive economically, the large numbers of deaths every day related to automobile use, the destabilization of international politics cause by oil dependency, and the devastation of the environment are simply a huge disaster.

    Current mass transit systems have serious shortcomings that prevent 100% adoption though, so what problems do we need to resolve for a public transportation system to be appealing enough that private transportation is no longer a desirable alternative?

    1. It needs to get you there quickly. You shouldn't have to transfer between different lines and different modes of transport and arrive at your destination 45 minutes later when you could have been there in 10 minutes via car.

    2. It needs to provide door to door service. You shouldn't have to walk a few blocks, hop in a car, or take a bus, to get to a station and board public transportation.

    3. It needs to be cheap. Public transportation already wins here when you factor in all the extended costs of car ownership. Most of the time your car sits unused in a driveway, garage, or parking space, and in the bigger picture that's just money ticking away by the minute in terms of us having a *much* larger fleet of vehicles overall than we need.

    4. It needs to always be available. It can't stop running from 12am until 6am.

    5. Travel needs to be private/not shared between passengers. You should have a car/coach/capsule that is private for you or you and companions for the duration of your trip.

    6. It needs to be comfortable. A public system could have many advantages here, not having to drive is one of the biggest.

    7. It needs to be be ubiquitous and extend everywhere. You should be able to go anywhere using the system that you can with a car.

    I think all of these criteria could be met by replacing our entire road system, down to the last street and cul-de-sac, with a tube or rail system and having numerous individual cars/capsules that arrive on demand and take you where you want to go, all routed by computers (kind of reminiscent of the old pneumatic tube message systems). The cars/capsules could be privately owned, but I think it would work much better if they were shared/pooled to dramatically reduce the costs. I can think of ways to combine/support both options.

    You would only need private/off-grid vehicles for specialized tasks. They could be designed to connect to the grid to get to a location and then detach and run independently at the job site.

    I wonder how, cost-wise, this would compare to the entire road and automobile infrastructure, including what we each pay for private car ownership and maintenance. There are lots of interesting implications to this. What effect does it have on the idea of a neighborhood? The commercial strip? What do we do with all of the reclaimed space if roads are replaced by something with a much smaller footprint (do urban homeowners all get their lots extended by several yards or do we create some new system of a public greenspace grid)?

    Is this a bad idea? What kinds of systems are being proposed out there for this kind of a broad shift toward something that is more humane, convenient, and cost-effective, then the mess we have today?

    • I think you were doing fine until you got to

      I think all of these criteria could be met by replacing our entire road system, down to the last street and cul-de-sac, with a tube or rail system and having numerous individual cars/capsules that arrive on demand and take you where you want to go,

      The massive infrastructure cost and environmental damage would be comparable to paved roads and highways.

      Tough nut to crack, but perhaps one can imagine a system of public electric automobiles that you just grab, use

  • by KalvinB (205500) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:32AM (#8722914) Homepage
    with all this genetic engineering go on, I want my flying monkey.

    I don't care if it's a european or african flying monkey. As long as it can hold the weight and get me to work.

    Ben
  • by qromodyn (741144) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @02:05AM (#8723029)
    If the Concorde failed because it was too expensive, how is a 5000 mph rocket ship going to be competitive?

    This reminds me of the talk of colonizing Mars. A lot of people say we could colonize Mars after we destroy the Earth. It is and will always be a lot easier to live in the Gobi desert than on Mars, regardless of the amount of pollution!

  • by Elwood P Dowd (16933) <judgmentalist@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @02:12AM (#8723057) Journal
    Anyone who thinks Mach 7 is about travel is a horse's ass.

    We need to get our planes fast enough that we don't need Turkey's permission next time we want to drop bombs in the Middle East on 15 minutes notice.
  • by NKJensen (51126) <nkj@@@internetgruppen...dk> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @02:16AM (#8723070) Homepage
    This idea is to make a car, which can travel roads and a special rail which also supplies power. High speeds are obtainable on the rail and batteries are charged while the car is on the rail. Off-rail travel will be battery powered.

    Rapid Urban Transport [www.ruf.dk] may be a good solution for large cities. And most big cities grow larger every day.

    (No, I'm not related to the inventor, Jensen just happens to be the most common name in Denmark)
  • by Daetrin (576516) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @02:24AM (#8723095)
    "How Will We Get Around Near-Future Earth?" Why? Is it in the way of something?
  • by SlideGuitar (445691) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @02:33AM (#8723144)
    Here's my prediction. In an ideal world we will travel less distance, and more slowly.

    Goods and information will be moved to people, and make people virtually present to each other.

    Highways will be torn up. Roads will be planted with trees. Travel will become more not less expensive, as it is required to bear the FULL cost of the ecological and habitat destruction that cutting transportation corridors causes...

    My utopia is an antitransportation utopia in which people stay in places that are so good that they don't want to go very far, so rich that they don't need to go very far, and so well served materially that and socially that they choose not to travel.

    In the ideal world instead of subsidizing the environmental destruction of highways, airports and transportation technologies of every kind, we will make them pay their true cost, and work on creating PLACES.

    Transportation is fundamentally about destroying PLACE....

    Transportation is the enemy of PLACE.

    Movement is a seductive fantasy... it seems to present so many opportunities to the individual, and yet it makes every place the same, and destroys the habitats and environments that lie between places....

    Movement is what we all want, but that doesn't mean that we or our planet is better when we have more of it, or faster versions of it....

    Just the opposite. Transportation is a seductive illusion... it gets you from here to there, but only at the cost of destroying the difference between here and there and everywhere in between.

  • by tarsi210 (70325) <nathan@na t h a n pralle.com> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @09:53AM (#8725080) Homepage Journal
    I'd like to see something that I've thought about for a long time -- different licenses for different roads.

    Here's the concept: You have one general driver's license that gets you anywhere, basically, on standard roads. But a new driver's license that allows you onto a type of super-super-highway to be built across the USA. This highway would be several lanes wide for ease and safety, and the speed limit would be high -- say, 150mph. The minimum would be at least 85 or 90mph.

    The idea being here that if I am a driver with a good record, I can take a high-speed driving course and if I pass and install some standard, high-speed accessories in my car (3 or 4-point harnesses, etc), I am allowed to drive on the super-super highway and make a cross-country trip in very little time.

    The fact is, there's plenty of morons who should never go over the speedlimit due to the fact that they can't even use a turn signal, let alone drive correctly. But there are plenty of safe, alert, attentive drivers who would benefit from being able to run their well-designed fast cars on a highway suited to their needs.

    Plus, that way I wouldn't feel bad about kicking it up on a back highway because the day is gorgeous and 60mph is just too slow. :)
  • by polyp2000 (444682) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @09:54AM (#8725090) Homepage Journal
    Anyone who thinks that a scramjet that travels at Mach 7 is going to form the basis of a future commercial airline travel is seriously deluded! Face up to the reality there are only 2 uses that this thing is realistically going to be used for and that is for Weapons/Military and maybe as a space propulsion mechanism.

    How many years was concorde in service ? Came into service during the sixties (i think) and no-one but either the very lucky or the very rich ever got to enjoy the privelege of travelling over the speed of sound.

    Its just going to be too damn expensive to run this thing as commercial / enterprise. Concorde has recently gone out of service , only a few were ever made and never succeeded. Commercial airline travel has taken a backwards step with the demise of concorde. So I wouldnt get too excited about this causing a revoltion in global travel for a very very long time.

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