The next big thing in Transportation

I was talking with Benn (see previous post) at WCTR last week (before the article came out), and the question arose, “What is the next big advance in transportation?”
My answer:
The next big advance has to be cars that drive themselves (in mixed traffic). See the DARPA Urban Challenge
(1) it increases people’s range, because they can sleep, work, etc. in their vehicle.
(2) ultimately, (version 2.0) we can put children and other mobility impaired into the vehicles, and send them on their way.
(3) the car can then park itself. (providing door-to-door service, reducing access/egress time for users in cities and saving on parking costs)
(4) it can go faster as the computer has faster reflexes, though it is still limited by braking speeds.
(5) it can close gaps and therefore increase capacity slightly (depending on how mixed the traffic is).
(6) it is deployable now (assuming it works) as it requires no new infrastructure. The requirement for both new vehicles and new infrastructure (the chicken and egg problem) is what has befallen most previous next new things in transportation (think Personal Rapid Transit).
I believe many of these vehicles will in general be smaller (think Bill Garrison’s work), maybe 2 passenger, but perhaps configurable so that an attached platoon can save energy through aerodynamics and space for parking. Say you can chain a few of them together at home, for instance, then a family would go out, but if not everyone were going, the vehicle would be right-sized for the group, with only a little bit of slack.

Getting more mileage from loop detectors

My friend Ben Coifman has a nice mention in a recent article in Science Daily: ScienceDaily: ‘Smart’ Traffic Boxes Could Help Monitor Roads, Save Money
The trade-off between local processing and use of the network for communications is fundamental, and depends on the cost of each. This is something that should be optimized to reduce system costs and improve performance.

How late are planes?

Another NYT piece: Ugly Airline Math: Planes Late, Fliers Even Later citing some work by MIT’s Cynthia Barnhart on airline and passenger delay. Is this due to weather, demand (and high load factors removing slack in the system), or poor labor relations?
The article focuses on Northwest and Continental, though the observations are I am sure more general. The 25 minute average delay seems low to me, but I am operating off anecdote here.

Electronic toll collection and toll rates

A nice article in NYT: Technology Eases the Ride to Higher Tolls citing important work by Amy Finkelstein of MIT on Tax Salience, the less you are aware of a tax, the easier it is to raise, this applies to tolls, so electronic tolls which have less salience than manual, result in the ability to raise tolls faster. Finkelstein’s paper was cited in Levinson and Odlyzko’s “Too Expensive to Meter:The influence of transaction costs in transportation and communication” earlier this year.

Driving from London to Mongolia

My colleague and recently minted Imperial College, London Ph.D. Robin North is part of a team to drive a 1-litre, 19-year-old, Suzuki SJ on the Mongol Rally 2007 (London to Ulan Baator). This of course is an insane goal, but you are only young once. The aim is to raise funds for good causes (Mercy Corps Mongolia and Hope and Homes for Children), help the Mongolians achieve environmentally-sensitive automobility, and have a good time on the adventure of a lifetime. The website is here:
Goldenoeuf: The World Is Not Un Oeuf

by David Levinson


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