My wife’s car is 13 years old now, and (thanks to her long commute) beginning to fall apart; so she has begun that old American pastime, the search for a new car. And as I watch her process (and remember the processes I went through so many times), I’m reminded of how little the auto industry has actually progressed in the past decades… not to mention, how little American auto buyers have learned.
I know. It almost sounds blasphemous. Imagine, a car that drives itself, as do the cars in my novel Sarcology. No input from a driver, other than telling the car your destination. Then turning your back on the car until it tells you you’ve arrived. It’s crazy. No car could drive as well as you can. No car could get you where you’re going faster or easier than you can. And no robot could be a safer driver than you.
Yet, robotics technology is improving by leaps and bounds every day. Google, using the latest in computers, GPS and sensory technology, has created a car that has run so safely over the past year (one accident, caused by the other car) that two states have decided to make self-driving cars legal on their streets. Other states are already looking them over, as other car makers and experimenters are working on their own self-driving car technology. And in every state, many drivers now gladly watch in hands-off mode as cars park themselves. The writing is on the traffic sign.
And you still don’t want cars to drive you around? Well, maybe you just haven’t thought it through.
The other day I was watching TV and happened to see a Hyundai car commercial (a natural thing to see, considering the show I was watching featured a Hyundai as one of the main character’s rides). It made me think of the Hyundai Tiburon I owned up until recently, when I traded it for a new Toyota Prius C. And I found myself saying: “Sometimes I miss my Tiburon. That car was sexy. There’s nothing sexy about my new Prius.”
But upon giving it further thought, I realized I had to take that statement back. Because, like so many other things, sexy is much more than the outside package.
I was recently reminded about an experience I had as a teen: I went to an Earth Day show at the Mall in Washington, D.C. and, among many things I saw, I had a chance to examine no less than four fully electric automobiles, all endorsed by the U.S. Department of Energy, a few made by major auto manufacturers (GM was among them), and at least one of them expected to go to market within 5 years.
This was 1978 or so.
And I remember thinking how great that was, because it meant that by the year 2000—because, in 1978, 22 years into the future sounded serious enough to warrant the phrase “in the year 2000″—there would be multitudes of electric cars to choose from, and the country would be driving primarily electric vehicles by then.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. And when you ask someone about why it didn’t, the answer is likely to involve some form of inertia.
Last weekend, I took the plunge: I replaced my 2000 Hyundai Tiburon with a Toyota Prius C Three, the newest iteration of Prius to come off of the Toyota assembly lines. There were a number of reasons for my upgrade, not the least of which was the aging condition of that beautiful shark, and its increasing maintenance costs. But I was also ready to move up to the next generation of automobiles… the generation that I expected to jump into in 2000, but wound up buying the Tiburon instead. Now, twelve years later, I finally have the next generation of car, and I find myself wanting to catalog the ways in which the car has improved over its older self.
Thanks to an accident last fall, my 2000 Hyundai Tiburon is probably not going to last until 2015 as originally planned. So, I’ve started looking for the car to replace it… and at the moment, that car is the Toyota Prius C.
A recent customer asked me to list the significant science and engineering elements that have been featured in my novels. The idea was that the list would give an idea about the kind of science I was interested in, and the general slant of my books. This is not to suggest I “invented” all of these ideas myself; but some of them are unique and created by me, or independently of its use in other books.
Once I finished the list, I thought it was a pretty good list to share… so, here goes: