The beginning of the new year is always the time when people will either traditionally ask, “What do you predict will happen in the future years?” or they’ll traditionally tell you. I’ve been avoiding making outright predictions of what will happen in the future… and the reasons go back to 1980, and a slam-dunk future that turned out not to be.
Harley-Davidson made transportation news this week when they announced their new motorcycle prototype—the electric-powered Livewire—and the promotional tour that will present it to the public… and quite possibly introduce the future of motorcycling to America.
I’ve been a fan of motorcycle transportation, ever since I was left without a car for a short time in my forties. Over the years, I’ve owned a standard-configuration bike, a sporty-standard and a cruiser, and I’ve used them for commuting and recreation. I donated my last bike when public transportation to my job was so convenient that I found myself not riding it (my wife was uncomfortable on the back seat, so it had limited recreational value). I think about bikes every so often, and I can see myself buying another one someday.
But God, how I want my next bike to have joined the rest of civilization in the 21st century.
Audi’s beautiful e-bike concept may be what the future of bicycling—and, indeed, most non-highway single person transportation—ought to be aspiring to: It gets people out of cars they don’t need to be pushing and buying so much gas for; it’s great for city and suburban use; it has built-in safety features; it still allows the rider to pedal if desired; but it also offers an electric motor that will take you at close to car-speeds wherever you need to go.
Take a good look at the bike (ignore the seat, for now) and you’ll see what I mean.
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.
I always develop most of a novel’s setting before I start writing it, and allow the writing process to flesh out a few cool details along the way. As I’m currently hip-deep in my next novel, currently known by the project name of Sarcology, I’ve written most of those fine details, and find myself working in an environment that I can picture in my mind as if I’ve actually just returned from visiting there. So I thought I would spell out a few details, to prepare you for the world of my upcoming novel.
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.
Please enjoy an excerpt from Chasing the Light, a novel of the near future.
Chasing the Light is a “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy returns to find girl and make his fortune” story, set in the United States of a very realistic near-tomorrow. The young lovers, Tom Everson and Doña Navarra, are forced apart due to circumstances beyond their control, and Tom risks everything to be reunited with Doña.
In fact, the story could be said to begin any day now, as it is kicked off by violent events caused by the energy crisis and the oil industry’s contentious activities to dominate the energy landscape.
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.