Friday, August 22, 2008

A Better Transportation Paradigm

Previously I have stated the our transportation system is probably the best ever constructed by humans. So what could be better? In my opinion, better is a system that substantially reduces or eliminates the problems discussed in the antiquated transportation system chapter. As discussed, automation will improve safety, speed, reliability, and convenience of the system and solar and wind for an energy source will make it sustainable and green. Safety should be improved through automation by eliminating the number one cause of accidents, the distracted driver. While there many problems that can occur in any kind of computer, redundancy and fail-safe modes should make catastrophic events causing death, injury or damage extremely rare or even non-existent, saving over 40,000 American lives every year. Speed will be much improved from not having any stopping and starting since the system will automatically regulate merging at intersections, meaning no stop signs or traffic signals (and no drivers not moving when they should be). Additionally, vehicles can be safely be packed together in tighter bunches (no need to leave large amounts of space ahead, behind, and on either side of every vehicle) and operated at higher speeds (if a nascar driver can drive around in ovals at 200+ mph, a computer controlled car should be able to navigate in mostly straight lines at least as fast). One of the biggest priorities in a new transit system should be reliability and one way to address this is the aforementioned redundancy. While that will help in day-to-day operations the system is still subject to aging and wear and tear. Self-monitoring of the system will greatly improve reliability through each vehicle automatically going to be serviced after a given number of miles travelled or when the on-board computer indicates operating parameters begin to fall outside acceptable limits. The same computer would also alert the central processor about larger conditions that may need attention like water or debris on the road or something like a bump from a forming pothole or shift of an abutment in a section of highway. By attending to problems when they begin instead of waiting for a bridge to collapse or something, repairs should be less expensive and faster to do, thus cutting the time any section of the system is out of or at reduced service. By using prefab methods for construction and repair of highways, work directly on the system can also be greatly speeded up which in itself improves reliability. The last thing I want to talk about is convenience. One of the goals of my proposed system is to combine the efficiencies of mass transit with the convenience of the personal automobile. Most people don't use mass transit because its operation is limited both in range and availibility when compared to a car, making it inconvenient. If, however, you could summon the bus or train to your location at the time you wanted and go directly to wherever you wanted to go many more people if not everyone would do it. A prescheduled ride could be set up or a few minutes (not hours) wait for on demand service would save a lot of time over driving to most places, allow the user to do things other than operate the vehicle, and not require the user to think about issues like fuel and maintainence. I don't see how anything short of a "Star Trek" transporter could be any more convenient for travelling most places.

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