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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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  • I dunno . . . (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dorlthed (700641) <mxc511 AT psu DOT edu> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:40PM (#8722217)

    I just don't feel like scramjets are the future of transportation. Anything traveling that fast will be too small and would be too rough of a ride to be practical for mass/personal transport.

    I don't think there are going to be any radical changes in transportation, speedwise, until we acheive teleportation a la Star Trek. But feel free to argue if you feel differently.

  • 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 Kris_J (10111) * on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:42PM (#8722233) Journal
    What happened to all the really big airplanes that were supposed to be on their way?
  • 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 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?
  • Safer way (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Three Headed Man (765841) <dieter_chen@yahoo.cWELTYom minus author> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:43PM (#8722242)
    Matrix style plugging into something somewhere, and projecting yourself into reality there. Sure, you won't actually be transporting, but you won't know the difference, and it'll be instantaneous. Seems workable, although I'm just a little leery of the needle in the back of my skull.
  • 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.

  • 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...

  • 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?
  • Re:I dunno . . . (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Vancorps (746090) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:46PM (#8722271)
    I think we won't see a change in transportation until we see some new energy sources. Right now I just don't think we can do all that much more with gasoline. Bring on Fusion and much improved batteries. Man, batteries haven't really changed in years!

    I think that is holding back most innovation right now, reliance on gasoline and fossil fuels keeps out energy levels low in comparison. We might see a large change in 2014? Whenever the fusion reactor is created and successfully tested. Of course, hopefully they learned from such nuclear accidents as Cherynobl and Three Mile Island, I suspect a fusion related accident would be much worse.

  • Automotive! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sumdeus (656737) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:47PM (#8722276) Homepage Journal
    But are we likely to see similar advances in other forms of transport?
    I for one would like to see some real improvement in the automotive market. With all of the major car manufacturers dragging their feet over alternative fuel solutions for so many years, the actual adoption of even hybrids has been significantly delayed. I need options with these ever raising gas prices.
  • by robslimo (587196) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:48PM (#8722283) Homepage Journal
    OK, I'll see your more high speed trains in the US and raise you a whole lot more plain, ordinary passenger (or even a few more freight) trains first.

    It's seems ironic that one of the nations that brought rail travel to the world is now one of the least railed now. We may very well revert/advance to railed systems in the future, but it will only be after serious economical and social changes have taken place... which assumes the demise of the automobile and its associated freedoms as we know and love it now. I'm not holding my breath (except when I'm in the big, smoggy cities).
  • 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
  • Re:Good ol' days (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:55PM (#8722338)
    Tell me how the advent of the car killed the bicycle. Or the advent of the plane.

    Some people actually have a need to get somewhere, and a bicycle just won't do. When I was in school, I had a job interview on the other side of the state (300 miles away). They flew me there, which was slightly more convenient than bicycling, especially since I had class the next day. Yet that weekend, like most weekends, I went out and rode my bike for pleasure and exercise.. Somehow I managed to get on a plane and not forget how a bicycle works.

    When the next form of transportation comes around, I'm willing to bet that it won't cause us to forget how to bicycle either.
  • 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 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:57PM (#8722347)
    Who do you think is the world's largest building of locomotives? Surely they could find a way to profit from more rail travel if they had to.
  • by realmolo (574068) * on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:57PM (#8722350)
    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 teleportation and it's effects on society is a major theme. And, it happens to be arguably the best SF novel ever.
  • by lpret (570480) <lpret42@hTOKYOotmail.com minus city> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:58PM (#8722355) Homepage Journal
    Neither do the oil companies...
  • by ObjetDart (700355) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @11:59PM (#8722360)
    Well, I suppose you can, but you can't crash it into anything. Well, I suppose you can, but only the station at the end of the line.

    As I recall, right after 9/11 suddenly D.C. politicians were talking about how maybe neglecting our national rail system was maybe not such a good idea after all. I was heartened by the possibility that we could be at the dawn of a new rail era. Well, that lasted about 1.5 days. Then it was back to business as usual and the good ol' auto lobby calling all the shots.

  • 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:02AM (#8722386)
    It's called supercavitation. Traveling within the vacuum created by the shockwave the nose of your craft creates. Water only touches the nose, the rest of your craft is flying - hence supercavitation typically requires rocket power.

    Which is fine for a missile - but a bit impractical if you're a human that wants to get there without being turned into a gooey paste due to extreme forces at launch, maneauvering - and if you hit anything.
  • by Bobdoer (727516) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:03AM (#8722395) Homepage Journal
    Neither does OPEC or GWB.
  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:08AM (#8722439)
    Original post:


    1) Manditory intelligence testing
    Quoted in reply:


    1) Mandatory intelligence testing
    So, Mr. Troll, he had corrected it in his posting.

    IHBT. HAND.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:09AM (#8722449)
    You wouldn't by any chance be one of those backwards oxymoronic smartgrowth types?

    Sure, let's just corral the masses into the cities and make it so that only the truly rich can afford to get out.

    You people have no idea just how evil you are.
  • by Moofie (22272) <lee&ringofsaturn,com> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:15AM (#8722485) Homepage
    You're a mechanical engineer, and you don't understand that air travel is safer than train travel?

    Mmmmmmkay.
  • by Aldurn (187315) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:17AM (#8722496)

    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...
  • 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
  • by moxruby (152805) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:28AM (#8722558)
    Oil is going to be WAAAAYYY too expensive to use for a trip to the shops within a couple of decades. There's just not that much left (even oil industry execs and Bush's energy advisor admit this!).

    There are currently NO forseeable alternatives to oil that will scale to allow Americans to keep driving personal cars. Period. The main two alternatives I see bandied about are hyrdrogen and ethanol.

    -Hydrogen is a lousy storage system, about 25% efficient for the electricity round trip. Unless someone invents cheap fusion, we won't be able to waste that much energy.

    -Ethanol requires large amounts of oil to produce it (tractors, fertiliser etc.) and we could never produce enough sugar to meet current levels of demand.

    I suggest you teach your kids to ride a bike, and maybe put a few away for the future. Oil is so inextricably linked to the manufacturing and distrubtions sectors of the economy that even a simple bike may become a commodity.
  • by midimonkey (671210) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:30AM (#8722565)
    Which sounds good until you sit down and start thinking about it.

    Several examples:

    1. Your next store neighbour requires a paramedic and may need to be rushed to hospital.

    2. Garbage collection. I suppose you could take your own rubbish to the incinerator (pending it's not miles and miles away) or dig your own hole and bury it - and that still wouldn't account for recycables.

    3. Your roof is on fire. The fire brigade says it will take them 1-2 hours to get their kit together and arrive by bicycle. I suppose we could try to be a 'jack of all trades' and extinguish it ourselves, but.

    4. All of that beautiful food you eat. Mainly brought in by lorry (truck), you wouldn't have the vast number of options you have today in local grocers. This also includes restaurants. There would probably be more emphasis on growing your own and distributing via markets (not a bad thing,) but it would still be quite a chore lugging it all around on a bicycle.

    5. Mail. Services like FedEx would cease to exist, or at the very least would become a -bit- slower in getting that package to you. Your local mail deliverer would also suffer as he/she now has to lug all of the mail for the neighbourhood around with him/her.

    6. Repair/construction people. Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, roofers, et al. Life would not be fun for these people.

    7. Planning on moving? Good luck.

    Don't get me wrong, a bicycle is my primary means of getting around town and although I generally agree that it would be nice if more people would use one (especially in city centres,) I also recognise that cars/vehicles help to play a vital role in day to day life.

    Idealism has its place, but it can also quite silly at times.

  • by Moofie (22272) <lee&ringofsaturn,com> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:30AM (#8722570) Homepage
    I like having a yard. Lots of people agree with me. That means, suburbs.

    I can see the appeal of urban living too, but some people just don't care for it. Fortunately, there is room enough for both of us to be happy.
  • by Ian Bicking (980) <[ianb] [at] [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.

  • 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.
  • by prichardson (603676) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:18AM (#8722846) Journal
    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).
  • by Ironica (124657) <[pixel] [at] [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 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 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 Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:53AM (#8722983)
    Oh, air travel was never "protected" here. The entry requirements were just too steep; it's airports and planes that have become more available. Discount airlines take off from smaller airports in the middle of nowhere. Many of these are former military bases.

    The Shinkansen, to pick nits, is a really bad example if you are talking about railways in Europe because, hey, it's a Japanese train. Instead, consider the Thalys (Belgium TGV, basically), the ICE (German high speed train) and of course every geek's favorite, the Transrapid (still the most advanced Maglev train in the world, and Munich might even yet build one to connect the airport to the city).

    The reason why passengers pick airplanes over trains are also quite simple. I am amused that you didn't get this simple reason. I mean, of course price is a big part of it; but the main reason we have so many railway passengers is .... shorter distances. If you fly from, say, Frankfurt to Paris it takes you roughly 3.5 hours. The flight itself is only 55 minutes but the check-in etc take a long time. Rail (via non-high speed train) takes 6h. Frankfurt to Hamburg: Flight time about 45 minutes, but a trip still takes 2.5-3 hours. Compare this with 3.5-3.75 hours by high speed train.

    Heck, most countries here are small enough that you can get everywhere quite comfortably with a car if you want. That is the real competition for trains.

  • Not just Segway (Score:2, Insightful)

    by A nonymous Coward (7548) * on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @02:00AM (#8723009)
    What do you do if you're 3 miles from home and your car runs out of gas? What do you do if you're 3 miles from home and your bicycle gets a flat you can't fix? What do you do if you're 3 miles from home and your shoe falls apart?
  • 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.
  • Fossil fuels (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Cronan (717762) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @02:28AM (#8723115)
    I think our near/medium-future transport possibilities will be determined as much by the realities of diminishing fossil fuel supplies as by technology and the "need for speed".
  • 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 lhuiz (614322) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @02:57AM (#8723236)
    Trains (~75mph) simply aren't anywhere near as fast as airplanes (>500mph).

    You're right that they are not equally fast and they might never be. But last time I sat on the French TGV it certainly went faster than 75mph. The thing goes over 300kph, which would be about 200mph i guess. At those speeds it would still take you longer to get there, but at least the times would be comparable.

    And then you have the new developments in maglev (magnetic levitation) trains, where speeds can be higher - near 500kph, say 320mph - and more importantly acceleration is a lot better too. Those things offer the option of moving you over great distances in good time and still stop at every significant town in between, which enhances your chances of getting near your final destination, lowering driving times to/from the airport or railway station.

    On the downside: planes not only move faster, they can also move in a direct line, something train will never be able to do...
  • Re:Of course not (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Pxtl (151020) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @02:59AM (#8723240) Homepage
    God, I want one of those now. That being said - simple 2-stroke engine? These days a 4 stroke engine can be made that small (allowing for cleaner burn and not mixing the oil in), and a 2-stroke engine in that size (looks to be about go-kart sized) can do 60 easily. What gives?
  • by Cody Hatch (136430) <cody@chaoLISPs.net.nz minus language> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @03:27AM (#8723347) 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

    By morons, maybe.

    This is just a special case of the Broken Windows Fallacy [wikipedia.org]. Just think! Were I to chuck a brick through your window, I would at a stroke create work for the glazier to make a new pane of glass, for the repairman to install it, for the deliveryman to carry it from the glazier workshop, for a miner to mine the sand needed for the glass, for farmers to feed all these people - a large net good for the economy, no? So we should encourage people to chuch bricks through windows, right? And dig pointless ditches, move mountains three feet to the left, and blanket a large and fairly empty continent with a dense passenger rail network, right?

    The answer, of course, is no. There are much more productive things those resources could be doing (or they'd already be doing it). :-)

    (Hardcore Keynesians will of course argue that in very special circumstances (ie, the Great Depression) there may be some point to paying people to do nonproductive things. It's arguable if this was true then, it certainly isn't true now.)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @03:49AM (#8723425)
    It's an illusion that air travel would be more economical. I do understand that somebody can end up in a conclusion like that when omitting two critical factors from the equation:

    a) currently airlines pay no tax on fuel
    b) pollution

    See for example:
    http://www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/transport /issues/ai r_travel/

    and

    http://news.scotsman.com/latest.cfm?id=2717343
  • 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 fucksl4shd0t (630000) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @04:13AM (#8723498) Homepage Journal

    AC Propulsion just took a trip from LA to Vegas in a lithium-battery car. That's all the range we need for a practical car.

    Range isn't the problem, it's charging time. When it takes > 8 hours to charge, it's unreasonable for daily driving, and completely useless for cross-country driving. Consider a car now, charging time is time at the pump and you're fully charged. I could throw an electric motor in my truck now, sacrifice half the bed-space for batteries, and commute every day with it. But that's all it would be, then, a commuter. (Cross-country driving does require my truck stop for gas pretty much on the hour) Range isn't the problem and hasn't been for some time. :)

    What's really needed isn't batteries, unless they can be charged in 10 minutes. What's needed is a fuel-powered generator where you can refill the fuel in 10 minutes and generate enough electricity to get range at least comparable to gas-hog cars. And the fuel needs to be renewable and not fossil, of course.

  • Re:Of course not (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cgenman (325138) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @04:25AM (#8723513) Homepage
    4 stroke engines are much more complicated to build and work on. This isn't made by Honda. Plus, while 4 stroke motorcycle engines are making a comeback, they're still pretty big.

    Compared to a go-kart, this is pretty small. While still larger, mopeds would be a fairer comparison, and those tend to top out at 30. In that small space you need an engine, a gearing system, the unique wheel-driving system, exhaust, fuel storage and injection, etc, etc.

    Still, I'm glad it tops at 20. I couldn't imagine one of those things cruising at 60. Did you read up on how you're supposed to brake? While they might be keeping it at 20 for legal reasons, in this case it is probably in the customer's best interests.

  • Re:End of Oil? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fucksl4shd0t (630000) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @04:36AM (#8723547) Homepage Journal

    For further info google "peak oil hubbert"

    Or you can read my post. :)

    Hubbert, in the 50s (I think it was 1954) forecast that American oil production would peak within 30 years. And it did. Nobody believed him, everybody laughed at him, and in the 70s american oil production peaked.

    You might think "peak is good" right? Well, peak is not good when you're talking about oil reserves. Peak is the magical point where after you have peaked, there will be no further production growth, only shrinkage. Peak refers to an oil field reaching approximately half-depletion, but not necessarily. So when oil production worldwide has peaked, after that there will be no production growth. To counter this, all we need (heh, really!) is some new technology that creates a shrinkage in demand, hopefully a shrinkage that is equal to the shrinkage in production.

    After oil production peaks, expect the drop-off to be sharp, painful, and to create an economic catastrophe like nothing you'd ever imagine.

    Some geologists are predicting peak within a decade. Bush's own energy advisor says we're peaking *now*. He also says there isn't any way to know with current technology when we've peaked until after it happens, and that we have no plan B in place for when it does happen. So that means two things. First, it means we can't predict when oil production will start shrinking. Second, it means that when it does, we're immediately fucked.

    The Hubbert reference is important because it's historical precedence for the fact that oil production in a field will peak, and it doesn't take much brainpower to determine that oil production world-wide will also peak. Oil is a finite resource, and without proof of life on other planets we can't even expect space exploration to solve this problem.

    Fortunately, this is an area where every single one of us can help, and it doesn't require zealotry to do so. ALl you have to do is realize that oil production will peak, understand that it may be peaking right now (but we have no way of knowing), that oil is a finite resource, and then take action on it. The only action you need to take is with your spending decisions. Spend your money to promote non-fossil power sources of any kind, any time you need to make a power decision. Support companies that promote weaning ourselves off oil, and don't support companies that promote further dependence on oil (yes, that means propane is not a viable alternative, since it's made from byproducts of the oil refinery process). If you're going to buy a new car and there's a hybrid option, take it. And so on and so forth. It doesn't require passion or any of that crap, just pragmatic acceptance that we don't have a plan B for when it happens, and that it will happen no matter what, eventually. Even if it's 100 years from now. (I'm inclined to believe Bush's advisor who says it's happening now) Preparing for the future isn't that hard, if we just spend a minute thinking about it. ;)

  • Re:Well (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Inda (580031) <slash.20.inda@spamgourmet.com> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @04:45AM (#8723569) Journal
    Excelent post. Excelent ideas.

    As my PHB would say: "When can you have it finished?"
  • Re:Of course not (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Pxtl (151020) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @04:47AM (#8723575) Homepage
    Heheh, forgot about gearing and suchlike - have used a racing go-kart that has no clutch, no gearshift, nothing. You start the damn thing by picking up the rear end and running forward while the driver guns the engine. 2-stroke on that thing gets it doing 60.

    Yeah, not saying its a bad thing its slow.
  • That sounds dire (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pommiekiwifruit (570416) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @06:41AM (#8723946)
    Within 100 yards of my suburban apartment at the outer limits of London there are: 2 churches, 1 school, 1 cafe, 1 off-license, 1 pharmacy, 1 tanning salon, 1 computer shop, 1 kitchen salesroom. Within another 100 yards there are drycleaners, chinese, indian, more churches. Within 20 minutes slow walk there is a 24 hour large supermarket that sells everything from laptops to socks. It often runs out of buffalo milk mozzarella though :-(

    How can people live in a place where even to buy a carton of milk is a major undertaking in logistics? (unlike my neighbours I don't quite drink enough milk to get it delivered each day).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @06:42AM (#8723947)
    I take it you've never stood on top of the Eiffel Tower, or toured the Pyramids, or stared into the Grand Canyon, or... well, you get the idea. Luckily, very few people in the world are unimaginative hippie losers.
  • by Vandil X (636030) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @07:43AM (#8724132)
    There's a reason why we don't have personal flying vehicles: there are just way too many underqualified people, including myself.

    Granted, there would need to be training, etc, like with driving schools, but personal flight would single handedly start the "random house crash" epidemic.

    Not to mention the potential terrorism uses of flying cars by malcontents.

    Hydrogen fuel (or any oil-substitute means of vehicle-powering energy) won't happen anytime soon because OPEC has too heavy of an influence on many of the world's governments, including the United States.

    Flying cars and alternative fuels have already been invented, it's just the society or government isn't ready/able to adopt them.
  • Re:Not just Segway (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dpilot (134227) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @08:14AM (#8724295) Homepage Journal
    Your car has locks on the door. In many (though not all) parts of the country, you can lock the car, get a ride to get gas, and return expecting to find a car to refuel.

    Both the Segway and bike are small enough to steal, so you can't leave either by the road. But even with a flat, a bike is fairly easy to push along.

    Failures happen. You need to make sure you always have a recovery posture. When driving in winter, I always make sure my footwear and other clothing is good enough to handle any walk from a breakdown on my route. The Segway seems poor in this respect.
  • Re:Peak Oil (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fucksl4shd0t (630000) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @09:24AM (#8724812) Homepage Journal

    You did a fine job of addressing item (2). Thanks for spelling out the issues in your thoughtful post.

    No, thank you. :) I'm actually surprised by this post, because when I wrote it I thought people would read it and say "Oh, here's just another nut screaming about oil". Turns out this is the fastest I've ever seen one of my posts modded up to +5 Anything.

    But it seriously frustrates me how many people are willing to admit that oil is a finite resource but aren't willing to admit that finite means we'll run out eventually. The thing about the peak oil that I had never considered, though, is that the economic problems associated with using too much oil and depending on it too much happen long before we run out, and in fact we may never run out of oil. We'll be bankrupt long before then, and maybe civilization will collapse. ;) (Civilization collapsing is the worst-case scenario, therefore the most unlikely, but the scenario we should be targetting with our solutions)

  • by skarmor (538124) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @09:29AM (#8724849)
    I agree that there is no benefit in paying people to do nonproductive things (like digging and refilling holes in the ground). I also agree that the Broken Windows Fallacy is legitimate.

    But building commuter rail is not a special case of the broken windows fallacy. The broken windows fallacy states that it is not productive to allocate resources to areas where there is no economic gain. The construction of a high-speed rail system has such a gain in that before the project there was no high-speed rail and after the project there is. This is not the same as breaking a window in order to employ people to fix it where the total gain is nil.

    Additionally you are assuming that the country's resources are being efficiently allocated - this is not the case. Since there is already colossal waste within the system on other, less worthy projects it might be a good idea to fund a high-speed rail project (even if the project was not providing a net economic gain).
  • by handy_vandal (606174) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @09:43AM (#8724990) Homepage Journal
    ... it seriously frustrates me how many people are willing to admit that oil is a finite resource but aren't willing to admit that finite means we'll run out eventually.

    I suspect that large numbers of people -- a majority -- understand perfectly well that oil is finite, and that we're rapidly consuming the ready reserves, and that crisis awaits us.

    The sense that "people aren't willing to admit our situation" is an illusion. How is anyone to know what The Public thinks? Why, through the Mass Media, of course.

    If the news media (and governments) elevated our energy crisis to the stature, of, say, the Apollo program, then we'd realize that a great many people really do understand the situation. Hell, maybe we'd even take action, while there's still time ....

    -kgj
  • 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.

  • by zx75 (304335) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @09:58AM (#8725124) Homepage
    Considering it is the correct spelling of the word, I presume its accepted in your country as well.
  • by AgentSmith1000 (611623) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @10:14AM (#8725266)

    "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...
    Also, you fight the American concept of time. When I went to school as a kid, I had to take a school bus. You had to wait and wait and wait. You were under some other schmuck's timetable of getting from point A to point B. Eons ago, when I turned 16 and could drive, I've driven a car and never looked back. How much of one's life is wasted just waiting for public transit? I feel sorry for the people who live in cities where public transport is the only practical option. I'm sure there are things you can do while waiting (reading, coding etc.), but you are still in stasis or in fear of missing your transport and then have to wait longer for the next one.
    The only time I'm taking public transportation is when my car would be in peril of theft, damage or towing. Or when the distance is impractical such as traveling to an island or great distances.
    The only time you are going to make American public transportation viable is when I an other fellow Americans can pick up and go when we want to go.

  • by bware (148533) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @11:20AM (#8725832) Homepage
    imagine going from Chicago to Minneapolis-Saint Paul in just over a hour!

    The problem is, what do you do once you get there? How is public transportation in M-SP? (No, really, I'm asking, I don't know.) But replace that with LA-Las Vegas, and ask the same question. Neither place is particularly easy to get around without a car once you are there. The reason passenger rail works in the BoWash corridor is that there is public transportation once you get there. So the problem becomes a much bigger one of building high-speed passenger rail, and building public transportation at the end points.
  • Re:End of Oil? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CommieLib (468883) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @11:34AM (#8725956) Homepage
    I'm not sure how much of this whole problem is just warmed over Malthusianism (I'm sure the author of the parent knows what that means, everybody else just look it up).

    I don't accept the premise that peak production reveals anything meaningful about the remaining supply. Production may fall for so many reasons, including OPEC's machinations, increased fuel efficiency in cars (good grief, that certainly has increased since the 70's), etc.

    As it has been noted endlessly, there's an enormous supply of petroleum out there given a higher cost of extraction. Not far from where I live in the Fort Worth area, there's a town called Thurber. Thurber has the largest known deposit of bituminous coal on Earth (at least that's the town's claim). Thurber is also notable because it's a really cool ghost town. It's a ghost town because it developed as a mining town, and then far cheaper sources of energy became available. Almost all of that coal is still down there, just waiting for the energy prices to rise to the point where they justify extraction.

    The bottom line is this: alternative energy sources are absolutely as well developed as they need to be at this point. The existing petroleum supplies at higher extraction costs provide us plateaus that we will fall to as cheaper sources are depleted. As we fall to those more expensive petroleum alternatives, the alternative sources will become more attractive, and attract development, and fix the problem. There might be some stutters as we drop from one plateau to another, but nothing big. We could always grow up and realize that nuclear power can work in the interim.

    As per your recommendations, I'm always skeptical when micro tries to lead macro. It's just that the effects are so hard to predict. I would suggest that absolutely, if you want a hybrid for the fuel efficiency, you should buy one, but you shouldn't buy out of any larger plan to save the world because the effects are just too complex. For example, by buying a hybrid, you're obviously reducing demand pressure on the price of petroleum, which makes it more precious compared to solar. One might reason that, as a private individual, the best thing you can do to promote alternative energy sources is to drive a big SUV, which will drive up petroleum prices (infinitesimally). Of course, this has its own set of unexpected circumstances (introducing economies of scale, for instance), so I tend to just throw up my hands and say, "I just have to solve my own family (i.e., micro) problems and let the world take care of itself, for the most part."
  • by cgenman (325138) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:54PM (#8726917) Homepage
    How is the wheelman offtopic to a discussion on alternative transportation? As the entire line was hit with the offtopic stick, it's obvious that one of Slashdot's editors is to blame. But why? The question at hand was

    Are we likely to see similar advances in other forms of transport?

    Right? If Segway isn't offtopic, and it isn't, why would a portable, low-speed, tiny 20 mph vehicle be offtopic? Much like the Segway claimed to be, this could actually be the perfect vehicle for short jaunts to the store or visiting friends... the kind of short-range trips that the car is overkill but for which people refuse to walk. Why would a discussion about new forms of transportation discussing the cost benefits of 2 stroke engines vs 4 stroke engines in small vehicles be offtopic?

    I'm not saying you have to mod us back up. I'm just asking, WTF were you thinking? Dear Slashdot editor, seriously, what were you thinking? Justify yourself.

    Do editors get meta-moded?

  • by Java Ape (528857) <mike.briggs@nOsPam.360.net> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:56PM (#8726947) Homepage
    There's a number of posts regarding the requirements for operating future transportation, which raise the unavoidable truth that our quest for faster, lighter, more nible is at an impasse. We are limited not by our cars/planes/hoverboards but by our own skill and mental accuity.

    I suspect many of us at slashdot are not possessed of fighter-pilot reflexes coupled with the attention span of a Tibetan monk. In fact, several studies have shown that a high percentage of intellectually-inclined people have a very limited ability to focus their attention on mundane tasks like driving. High GRE scores and advanced degress may be inversely correlated with driving abilty.

    For my part, I am well-educated and working as a senior-level geek. My abilty to control a car is quite good, perhaps better than average. However, I am easily distracted, borderline ADD, and have had several accidents (none serious) due essentially to daydreaming/not paying sufficient attention. Fine, mea culpa. However, I strongly suspect that many of my fellow nerds, in an honest evaluation, would be found guilty of similar traits.

    So, I'll pass on flying cars and hypersonic velocity in favor of moderate speeds and air-bags!

  • I'm skeptical... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nothingtodo (641861) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:20PM (#8727197) Homepage
    There's all kinds of new possibilities, but I really doubt anything new will transform society. People love their cars too much to use anything else. Maybe we'll get to flying cars like the Jetsons, but I say well over 25 years from now. I'd say the general populace could probably operate a flying car provided they pass all standard training and tests that a fixed wing pilot goes though including the checkride. Things might have to change if many thousands of flying cars were in use. I've always read about things like riding bikes, bike lanes on some roads, communities small enough to walk to the store, light passenger rail and all that, but notice there's no widespread use of such, at least in the US. People are just too lazy to bother with using anything but a car to get anywhere. Ours is a car culture and changing that will not be easy. Ive a small motorscooter and I find it great for going places within a few miles of the house. Cheap, easy on gas, and being up on two wheels is great fun. Most people would not be interested in that however.
  • by anvilmark (259376) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:22PM (#8727221)
    Unfortunately, while Hubbert was right about a peak, he was wrong [ncpa.org] in all the ways that matter.

    The major problem with these dire predictions is that they can't take into account revolutionary changes in technology/lifestyles. They also don't take into account that known reservoirs may refill [detnews.com] from yet-undiscovered sources.

    Back in the late 1880 horses were the main form of transportation. If anyone extrapolated the growth of, say, New York City for the next 50 years they would conclude that horse feed and horse crap would be a huge problem by 1930!

    Yes, oil is a finite resource. What is often overlooked is that there are billions of barrels in forms/reservoirs that are not economical to extract at current prices and with the current techniques. As the price rises it will become economical to develop these resources and the price will stablilize.

    My personal prediction is that we will never run out. At some point renewable energy will become cost competitive with petroleum (getting close even now) and we will stop using it for energy. Thereafter petroleum will probably be used as feedstock for chemicals/lubricants but will eventually be replaced by bio-synthetic products.

    Tin-foil hats are fashionable in certain circles - if you haven't already "married the idea" of catastrophic oil depletion check out the facts here [ncpa.org].
  • Re:Not just Segway (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jonfelder (669529) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:58PM (#8727573)
    Call a cab and throw it in the trunk...
  • Re:End of Oil? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by burbilog (92795) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @03:31PM (#8728790) Homepage
    After oil production peaks, expect the drop-off to be sharp, painful, and to create an economic catastrophe like nothing you'd ever imagine.

    No, we have all solutions today. Ready, right now. They aren't profitable because it's cheaper to make $2/barrel hole in Saudi soil and suck oil there.

    We have the technology for the car consuming 1 liter per 100 kilometers. Right now. Volkswagen's 1-liter car. It's almost consumer-grade. But nobody will buy it because everyone buys huge SUVs.

    We can drive cars on methane. It cost about $600 to switch a truck from gasoline to methane here, in Russia and I doubt that it would be more expensive in U.S. or Europe. The only problem of switching to methane (any gasoline engine can run methane) is heavy baloons and even today you can buy kevlar-reinforced baloons with reasonable weight. But while methane is dirt cheap people rarely do this, it's easier to use benzine while it's more than twice expensive. And the Earth has enough methane to live for another hundred and half years (definitely enough to get cold fusion into production).

    Germans fought during WWII using synthetic fuel. If the price of the oil barrel goes over $40 then the technology of the past becomes viable and we can start making fuel from coal -- and the Earth have enough coal for hundreds of years. Last synthetic fuel factory in Germany was closed in sixties because it was impossible to compete with dirt cheap oil.

    So we have plans B-Z available right now. But oil is still cheap enough to keep these plans in archives...

The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts. -- Paul Erlich

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