May is always a good time to talk transportation. Amtrak, the national passenger rail carrier, as of May 1st has offered rail-based passenger service in the 48 contiguous-states region of the U.S. for 46 years. May, apparently, is a good time, too, to bike, the month being designated National Bike Month.
Meanwhile, this year National Transportation Week kicked off May 15th, concluding on May 19th.
And speaking of May 19th this is when the “Transportation on a roll: Getting better all the time” post was published. Presented was a capsule history more or less or what you might call a “development-of-the-field” brief. At the other end of the same axle, so to speak, is the future, the “where-transportation-could-be-or-is-likely-headed” part.
And where the road ahead will lead, I can’t help but conjure images in my mind of autonomous automobility, space exploration going to new heights (and distances), the name Elon Musk, and, relatedly, tube travel.
So, let’s explore a few of these, shall we?
Regarding the self-operating-vehicle design, development and deployment domain, it is literally an open road. At no time has activity in this area been more elevated and focused, and for good reason.
Talk about such runs the gamut: Everything from congestion and collision reduction and avoidance to the robotcars’ ability to be fleeted (that is, their traveling together in large numbers) and, I would be remiss, if I didn’t mention, at high speeds.
Expectations are running high that those milestones (and others) will one day be reached. One person has even suggested that said fleeted highway travel could be done at 200 mile-per-hour speeds – safely. Academic, entrepreneur, researcher and writer Vivek Wadhwa believes this will happen by 2020.
While possible perhaps, it’s not very likely. Think about what kind and the condition of the infrastructure needed to accommodate sustained speeds like that. What’s more, this infrastructure would necessitate being maintained at the highest standards. No non-smooth surfaces and uneven road conditions allowed, period.
Questions I have are: Why go to all this trouble when high-speed trains and railways already do the same? And, how would vehicles entering such infrastructure from, say, an on-ramp merge with in-transit cars moving at such high rates of speed? And, lastly, will these autonomous vehicles run cleanly? Will this be mandated or will gas-guzzling, air-polluting operation be the order of the day?
For many, full deployment of fully autonomous vehicle operation can’t come soon enough. As it has to do with that there are those who say all motor vehicle driving relinquished (turned over) completely to full computer control is still decades away. That said, a deployment timeline is, no doubt, high on, presumably, many people’s minds. At the end of the day, there remain lots of issues to work through before we’ll know for sure.
Operating in a vacuum
The Hyperloop concept, I have to admit, is something I don’t know an awful lot about, but this under-development-as-I-write-this form of transportation, I am very much interested in. I’ve been following developments and progress for quite some time.
Travel on land at 760 miles per hour; is it even possible?! I’m sure I’d be surprised to learn the number who subscribe to just this very belief.
Take, for example, Hyperloop One. It’s amazing how far this one endeavor has come development-wise in the time that it has. Remember, it was not too long ago that Elon Musk first introduced to the public his vision and then subsequently – on August 12, 2013 – releasing information to the public that provided far greater detail. For more on pneumatic tube transport, see: “On Elon Musk,” subsection “Hyperloop,” here.
In “Hyperloop One Unveils its Vision for America, Details 11 Routes as Part of Global Challenge” press release dated Apr. 6, 2017, the company wrote: “Executives from Hyperloop One joined leading policymakers and transportation experts [in Washington, D.C.] today to reveal details of select Hyperloop routes in the United States and to initiate a nationwide conversation about the future of American transportation.”
Two paragraphs later, Chief Executive Officer Rob Lloyd added: “‘Hyperloop One is the only company in the world building an operational commercial Hyperloop system. … This disruptive technology – conceived, developed and built in the U.S. – will move passengers and cargo faster, cleaner and more efficiently. It will transform transportation as we know it and create a more connected world.’”
Further on in the release presented is information explaining the process by which the system will operate.
“With Hyperloop One, passengers and cargo are loaded into a pod and accelerate gradually via electric propulsion through a low-pressure tube. The pod quickly lifts above the track using magnetic levitation and glides at airline speeds for long distances due to ultra-low aerodynamic drag. This week, the company finalized the tube installation on its 1640-foot-long DevLoop, located in the desert outside of Las Vegas; the facility serves as an outdoor lab for its proprietary levitation, propulsion, vacuum and control technologies.”
The press release concludes with this thought: “‘The U.S. is challenged to meet the growing demands on our transportation infrastructure, with congestion costing the economy more than $160 billion per year due to wasted time and fuel,’ said Tyler Duvall, a partner at McKinsey & Company. ‘However, new technologies are poised to drive efficiency, increase capacity, and help spur social and economic growth. To seize this opportunity, the approach to infrastructure planning must keep pace by integrating new technologies and taking long-term views of what mobility will look like in the future.’”
Time will tell if Duvall is right.
Transportation development: a work in progress, without question.
This post was last revised on Apr. 23, 2020 @ 6:50 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.
– Alan Kandel