On the Fringe with Amy Webb
The future of mobility isn’t just autonomous vehicles and won’t only impact the automotive industry. To think more broadly about the changes coming, it’s helpful to step back and look at what’s happening on the edges. Those are the areas not necessarily directly related but which will still influence transportation trends. GenPop asked best-selling futurist Amy Webb to give us some ideas of things to watch.
1. Cars as interfaces –– Modern cars double as communication platforms, connecting us to our digital assistants (Amazon’s Alexa, Google, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Sync and Cortana), entertainment systems (Spotify, TuneIn, Slacker Radio) and even our internet service providers (many cars are their own Wi-Fi hot spots). Soon, cars will connect to each other in vehicle-to-vehicle networks, and they will connect back to city hubs and transportation infrastructure. As a result, digital and autonomous user-interface design will play a key role in auto manufacturing going forward, which would spur partnerships among technology providers, startups and traditional car manufacturers.
2. Solar highways — Researchers have been working toward creating roads capable of producing their own energy. These smart, modular systems could illuminate lines and markings, keep ice melted, generate electricity for electric vehicle power stations, and even communicate data about whether a road needs repair. In Jinan, China, a new photovoltaic highway has already opened, joining France and the Netherlands.
In Poland, city planners are experimenting with solar-powered, glow-in-the-dark bike lanes. Idaho-based Solar Roadways has a number of pilot projects in the works, including a solar sidewalk in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and a portion of the Route 66 highway, as part of Missouri’s Road to Tomorrow initiative. Made from luminophores, which are made of small phosphor crystals, these systems absorb sunlight during the day and illuminate a brilliant blue at night.
3. Supersonic flights — Japan Airlines has invested $10 million in Boom Technology to develop supersonic jets, which will travel at 2.2 times the speed of sound, about twice as fast as a traditional aircraft. (JAL has already pre-ordered 20.) They are not alone in researching supersonic flight. Remember the thunderous sound made by the Concorde? NASA and Lockheed Martin are developing new ways to muffle sonic booms. Flights are already being scheduled for 2023. These flights won’t take you deep into space, but they will get passengers — and cargo — around the world in a fraction of the time it takes now.
4. Digital ship captains — Electric-powered ships that don’t require a human crew will take their first voyages in 2018. At the moment, it costs far more to build and operate an autonomous ship than a traditional one, but the longer-term benefits are already clear. Electric ships that don’t require people would offer a massive cost savings throughout the entire shipping supply chain. They’d be safer, would solve labor shortages and be better for the environment .
March 28, 2018