Thursday, March 1, 2012

Automated Highway System

Join the AR geek fest with me. I was chit-chatting with my non-SF geek the other day on the way to lunch. (She is a very patient friend who tolerates my trips to la-la land.)

I don't even remember how we got to the specific topic, but next thing I knew I was sharing my automated highway idea. Oddly enough, she got on the bandwagon. I think this is because she's a commuter and it takes her FOREVER to get to work in the morning.

My idea is simple. A magnetic highway system that is compatible without needed "robocars".

Robocar concepts are pretty common in the tech talk world. Electric cars that basically take over and autopilot you on your way. Don't get me wrong, I think that's ultimately where we'll end up... but it just seems so un-American. Come on, for the most part we're free spirited cowboys with a heavy independent streak. We honor our cars and roads so much that we covet Route 66.

You US of A ers know what I'm talkin' about. One of the main reasons why our transportation systems haven't taken on as well as in other countries is that the majority of us love of the car and driving ourselves where we need to go. (Not to mention our sheer size compared to other countries.)

Okay...let's travel back to "Topic land"... where was I?

Oh yeah, Robocars.

Robocars just give me an image of Stepford Wives but with cars...or worse, a Twilight episode.

Magnetic highway systems have also been talked about, which is exciting. But again, it's in terms of swapping out your unique vehicle with a compatible one (aka robocars/A.I. vehicles).

My idea -- which, who knows, may not be new. I read tons of research papers and articles and don't always remember I read something until a commenter links me in -- involves:

  1. Magnetic infrastructure built into current highways

  2. GPS road mapping system integrated into the magnetic network

  3. "Highway System Package" available for purchase at the auto store or dealership. (Includes magnetic installation kit for your vehicle and autopilot software to link to your car's GPS)
It'd have to be like the Fast Track program, where it's optional to participate. But, as you can see, Fast Track has exploded. There are only 1 or 2 cash lanes anymore. Start off with dedicated lanes and then expand as the volume of Highway System users increases.

Imagine, you can commute and instead of cursing traffic jambs or the crazy ass driver beside you, you could be leaning back and surfing the net or eating breakfast. Whatever you want...even catching another hour of zzz's until you get to your exit.

Now, I know I'm totally simplifying this. I'm not and never claimed to be 1) a scientist nor 2) an engineer. I'm just letting my mind go a-wandering.

What are your thoughts for automated highway systems? Any cool ideas you've been reading?


  1. Hmm. Interesting. I know this is an oversimplification, but I sort of picture it in my head like train tracks. There are sets going in a certain direction and then connections at various junctions. A controlled highway would basically work like that - going north or south, east or west, merging on or off. Since they already have sensors that tell you when your vehicle gets too close to an object, there could be upgrades to account for road debris or animals crossings. There's definite potential there. Of course, the government will figure out a way to slap a tax or a toll on it, but what else is new?

  2. Such interesting ideas come from creative people. This is one of them. I think this could be done in the future, though I don't have a clue how. But you are on to something I think.

  3. I think these are great ideas. I'm all for public transportation, myself. But I also see the car as an expression of one's individual personality. I think that you're correct that this concept will likely meet a much warmer reception in other countries before ours.

  4. This is already in the works. Google has been working on automated cars for years and has logged over 100,000 hours in test driving. Neveda just made it legal for non-human operated cars to be on the road, in fact. I don't think we're actually very far away from self-driving cras.

  5. Have you read the old Robert A Heinlein novella, "The Roads Must Roll" or his novel, "The Man Who Sold the Moon" They both feature a similar idea. Both, are, I believe, out of print, but you can buy them used (the novella is featured in a number of anthologies,) or the library. I highly recomment both.

  6. @Allie - Yeah, that's exactly what I visualized! (It's always a relief to share with my geekie friends...they never look at me like I've grown another head.)

    @Kaye - Thanks chickie! From what Andrew writes in his comments maybe we're nearer to the future than we thought. (Saturn cruise here I come!!)

    @David - Totally will be happening faster internationally. This would be a nice compromise. I mean, I wouldn't mind seeing a whole highway of cars the same distance apart, but not if that whole highway of cars was full of the same vehicle. That would creep me out.

    @Andrew - I have heard of the tests, didn't realize they were so far along though. That's fantastic! I wish they were working on adaptable systems, though, not a single automated vehicle. Like David said, I like the individual expression. But, it's a start. Look at the electric and hybrids, they started off with one or two car types and now there are all makes and models to choose from.

    @madcapmaggie - Oh, yeah! I have read the Man Who Sold the Moon...long, long time ago. Love Heinlein. I'll have to re-read it and find the other.