A recent Facebook post about the long-delayed Elio mini-car started a discussion about the dearth of similar vehicles out there for American drivers. Many of these cars have been pitched for over a decade, but just can’t seem to get the financing or support to actually achieve serious (or, in most cases, any) production and distribution. And that’s a shame, because they are missing what may be their only opportunity to shine… before it will be too late for them to run on American roads at all.
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.
I stayed up the other night to watch NASA’s Curiosity Rover descent onto the Martian surface. Well, it wasn’t so much watching Curiosity… it was watching NASA personnel reacting to the telemetry that told them what Curiosity was doing. In some ways, it’s like watching a sports announcer calling the game, instead of actually watching the game. But hey, with NASA, that’s the way it works.
Though it’s been awhile since I watched a NASA event, much less stayed up late to see one, this one fascinated me because it was a landing design unlike anything NASA had done before: Using a “skycrane” platform to hover over the surface, lower the rover to the ground on cables, then cut loose and land elsewhere. If you haven’t seen the simulations of how it should (and apparently did) work, you should.
But there’s something else that fascinates me, about this moment, and about NASA: They have become a textbook model of American efficiency.
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.