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Transportation Systems of the Future

As drones are now an integral part of modern warfare (putting aside the ethical arguments) and the idea of a robotic soldier crosses from the realms of movie fantasy to reality, it shouldn't really be a leap of faith to contemplate autonomous cars. After all, we all fly in planes and sail in boats which operate on auto-pilot. More and more, we are delegating tasks which have proven to be dangerous and subject to human error to sensitive data-collecting equipment. In short, we are accepting our frailties and looking to a future which will protect us from them.

Already dependent on our mobile computers, the Anderselite team believes it won't be too long before our cars too become part of the so called "Internet of Things". Self-driven cars are expected to be seen on the roads by as early as 2018. The early stages of this integration are already here. GPS navigation and online traffic warnings are present in any vehicle which is "connected". We are accustomed to the guidance systems of assisted parking and cruise control.

New cars commonly sport a raft of info-tainment opportunities which allow the occupants to amuse and divert themselves within the cabin. In the near future, updating Facebook and downloading music will be possible without having to also concentrate on the drab monotony of shifting gears and watching the traffic. It is almost as if there has been a process of gradual assimilation going on and it is only a matter of time before our cars take over and leave us to our own devices.

Driverless cars are expected to be far safer because of their continual exchange of data on speed and position. They should also be smarter and more fuel-efficient. There will be fewer road accidents and reduced congestion levels. Google are already in the field with their prototype Toyota Prius.
On its roof it has a 64-beam laser which continually builds a 3D picture of the environment it travels through, whilst other sensors on the sides are on the alert for obstacles such as pedestrians. It drove 300,000 miles last year without a single accident.

At Oxford University, the Mobile Robotics Group has produced a Nissan LEAF which similarly uses sensors to produce a 3D model over a given route and then is able to replicate it. Plans are in place for trials on rural and less busy roads by the end of 2013. A "driver" will be present, presumably to prevent public panic!

Nissan themselves have a radar camera model, with scanners all around the car. It continually calculates at what speed and in which position it should be going. If the driver is too slow, the dashboard can take over.
Given their brand identification with safety, it is not surprising to find Volvo at the forefront of these developments. Where safety improvements once focused on roll bars, crumple zones and crash-test dummies, Volvo have moved away from the inevitability of cars colliding and causing 1.3 million deaths on the roads each year. They are looking at eliminating the core cause; the human. 90% of road accidents occur because of the actions of a human being. The chauffeuring and limousine industries might not be so pleased with the new self-parking model, which will drop you off and pick you up again via a smartphone app. In essence, they are moving on from automated braking systems to adaptive cruise-control systems and from there it is only one step to automation.
There will be some legal niceties to iron out with these technologies. Whose fault it is if two autonomous cars do bump into each other is a question which springs to mind. The manufacturer? The sensors? But whilst the law and public acceptance may have to change, the technology is already here.

At the other end of the spectrum, inventors are putting the human back in the centre of the frame. New Zealand's Schweeb project is the world's first human-powered monorail. Suspended pods are powered by bicycle pedals in a comfortable, weather-proof form of transport with zero carbon emissions. The Schweeb traveller only has to use about a third of the energy needed to ride a mountain bike.

Human-powered vehicles (HPVs) have been around for centuries, of course. Just think of the rickshaw or the gondola. However, human muscle could be harvested in ways unseen since slaves rowed the galley ships if the developers of the HP buses get their way. A 32-seat bus in the Netherlands, built on a truck with 80 metres of bike chain, is propelled by 32 passengers pedalling.

The City Cycle is a party variation on this theme, with built-in LED lighting, a stereo and a bar. It can be turned into a club on wheels with its adjustable seating and travels at only 7 mph.
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