A Thread from Past to Future Transportation
The wheel is considered to be one of the greatest technological inventions of mankind. Archeologists estimate that wheeled wagons were used about 7,000 years ago, but it took approximately 50 centuries until the Romans built the wide infrastructure network needed to serve this great invention.
Evidently, the technological invention of the wheel was not sufficient to popularize it and make it a successful transportation tool; political or social ingenuity was required for practical utilization of the wheeled cart. The lengthy period that passed between technological invention and public implementation proves that political or social wisdom is sometimes either rare, or harder to execute than technological wisdom. Only subsequently could we criticize or wonder why it took so long for our forefathers to establish a wide pathway network for the wheeled carts. Could they not have contemplated the vast advantages of mobility? Indeed, domesticated animals satisfactorily served individuals, families, tribes or merchant caravans and provided fair navigability, or accessibility in different kinds of terrain, but would it not have been more efficient and economical to build public roads?
Modern economists define this type of error as "market failure", jurists or sociologists may call it "moral failure", and cynics may simply say it is a "political folly". A situation arises in which individuals appraise their short, narrow, self-interests and society fails to reach an agreement, or fail to build an institution that would promote long-term beneficial interest for society and its members.
This type of failure was repeated after invention of the steam engine. Early in 1769, a young, French, military engineer, Nicholas Joseph Cugnot, apparently built the first automobile and proved the feasibility of steam engine traction. Again, much time passed until public leaders were able to conceive the essential commitment of public involvement needed to organize a scheme that helped to produce the appropriate climate or foundations for maximum use of the engine in the transportation domain.
We did not learn lessons from, and are not immune to the errors of our ancestors. At the end of the 20th century, the most prominent invention was the computer, but this wonderful tool is barely used for transportation purposes. Ironically, useful computer technologies that were adapted for the communication domain created "information highways", but it appears that indisputable highway designers were not informed of this revolution. Engineers have proved that computers and communication technologies may revolutionize our transportation by adding automation, intelligence and interaction between routes and cars, but so far they have faced resistance or skepticism, and failed to implement laboratory mockups and theoretical knowledge in the real world.
When the features and characteristics of the information highway in our real roads will be emulated, our lives will undergo total change: Cars will not be driven by many unprofessional human drivers, but will be automatically and efficiently guided and routed by machines that will be better and more safely driven, bypassing human cognitive limits, reaction time, or fatigue. There will no longer be a necessity for drivers to transfer disabled, or for parents to act as chauffeurs to their children; automatic propulsion will avoid the need for special driving skills, thus most society members will have equal opportunities of mobility.
The Internet has been the cause of many people abandoning personal, old-fashioned book collections for a huge, collective, better-updated library. In the "Transportationet", most people will voluntarily surrender their private car resources and draw on automatic coaches from a collective coach bank for prompt transportation whenever required from origin to destination, thereby leaving them free after fulfilling the assignment, to serve others.
Transportation systems that work similarly to a bank, or a depository library of rolling stock, will improve the efficacy of transportation use. Parking facilities will be in abundance, and no traffic congestion will occur by many individuals using their private large family car solely for their personal use or sport utility vehicle for a daily drive to work. Instead of congested roads, streamlined automatic and intelligent compact cars will rush rapidly, permitting commuters to alight precisely at their required destination, and immediately clear expensive space for others to come aboard. At weekends or holidays, when movements of families or social groups replace the demand for solitary commuting, concatenated compact coaches will serve groups as a small private train.
Freight may be dispatched on the transportation network without human escort, imitating the way we address E-mail, supplying many new opportunities for traditional trade and production process by bridging geographical gaps and eliminating manpower delivery costs. Travelers will have opportunities to attach their baggage or gear in a small cargo coach following their passenger car, or deliver them in automatic coaches addressed to their destination.
We are so familiar with the paradigm and delight of the private car that for most of us it is difficult to conceive the senseless, redundant way in which we exploit land resources, or use expensive real estate. Our cars usually use different parking lots during day or night, or behave like swarming termites that devour whatever they encounter in their way. A prevailing solution for temporary congestion at limited peak hours is the addition of lanes to existing roads, although most are unnecessary out of peak hours. A temporary demand for parking lots behind a stadium or an opera hall once a week or month is sufficient to justify wide pavements. Could we not save this absurd form of land use by putting into service a collective, rolling stock of coaches that would serve our mobility requirements in a manner better than that of private means that couple our movements like a turtle and its shell?
Centralized management of a coach inventory may provide an economic tool to balance supply and demand, smoothing inefficient fluctuations of transportation by space and time.
Better mobility for all does not necessarily mean unbearable congestion or pollution. Efficient traffic streams may carry us for a longer range, be quicker and cheaper, but some reasonable compromises will probably need to be made. There is no congestion in a vacuum, traffic congestion occurs when many want to use the same space at the same time, producing total waste of time and space. This problem can be solved merely by fair allocation of time and space used for transportation, and may be achieved by adequate trade of redundant, useless capacity with better mobility.
It should be clear that adding computer technologies to transportation is not a panacea, easy riding may cause new conditions for or unfavorable environmental effects. New or existing problems will need other remedies, such as new laws that set moral or social preferences, economic control to balance supply and demand, or the addition of other technologies as recyclable energy sources.
The challenge of our generation is to reach a global civil social consensus for better mobility. It is not a fictitious dream, but a feasible opportunity to harness existing proved technologies to drive our automotive means.
Would there be an improvement in our planet by using the next step for transportation revolution? Would our descendants be satisfied by our progress? This would depend on several issues. Values or vices cannot be attributed to technological innovations, but to human beings. New technologies provide us with more opportunities to use or abuse them, and future generations will most probably judge us according to the way in which we develop and use these innovations. We can use new methods as gentle means by which to serve a love affair with our planet and our neighbors, or violently assault the earth, suck its marrow, or take advantage of our neighbors.
We cannot prophesy future behavior, but can leave a note for our grandsons. Our own lives may be better when each of us understands that for the sake of our own welfare; we should yield a fair part of our narrow or shortsighted self-interest for our neighbors, future generations and Mother Nature. This simple understanding is one of the classical bases of moral principles. The experience with an accelerated modernization process has taught us that it always oscillates exiting stability, temporarily hurting certain groups, but ultimately most participants are remunerated. The process of achieving a global consensus to change the prevailing transportation paradigm may provoke reasoning toward institutional, gradual, global mediationabout modernization in general, and automotive modernization in particular. This process may add many opportunities, more freedom from the limitations of our bodies and liberation from technical or economical constraints, and provide us with hope that it may be a source of inspiration towards a better world.
Oded Roth has a special interest in transportation based on a vision of safer and more efficient transportation schemes, by encouraging various interests and disciplines to combine automation and computers to vehicles and infrastructure, so they act in harmony. He is the webmaster of http://www.transportationet.com, as well as the author and publisher of the legal textbook Crossroad (Hebrew), about movement and transportation.