To create the PERFECT WHEELS personal transporter, its operational environment must first be understood; the road system, traffic flow, and its organisation. It is the way the environment is used and controlled, that will determine the future, or demise, of personal transport.
When you sit in a stationary car drumming your fingers on the steering wheel and your stress level mirrors the temperature gauge, who do you blame?
You blame the state for incompetence, then yourself for not taking public transport. You're quite right! Traffic management policy, is an area of administrative proficiency long overtaken by the chaos caused by universal car ownership.
People are determined to use their own personal transport regardless of the effectiveness or not, of public transport. So how can that determination be integrated into an efficient and effective system of mass transportation?
The first episode of PERFECT WHEELS opens the Pandora's Box of personal transport. Is it efficient? Is it possible to make it efficient? Is improved efficiency in personal transport a positive aspiration? Or is the only answer, mass transport?
Road systems and traffic can be likened to our circulatory system. Vehicles travel along networks of small roads onto major thoroughfares like capillaries into arteries. The idea is to move in a flow to a destination consisting of more fine capillaries where the flow disperses. The problem is that while the business of getting on the thoroughfare is not particularly difficult, the management of what happens at the final destination, is. Since any urban destination is subject to numerous thoroughfares converging at one point, a system of filtration is necessary, and it is the system of filtration that most affects the ability of the personal transporter to operate efficiently.
It comes as no surprise, that any irregularity in the system affects the whole structure, causing the stoppages that make your blood boil. In blood vessels such a blockage would result in death, the dilemma is, urban transport chaos could also result in death, of cities, and their inhabitants by pollution and economic stagnation.
Until now, governments have tackled the problems of traffic by installing controls at the dispersal end, while increasing the size of the routes serving the entrance end. This procedure has largely increased the problem. Perhaps Legislators believe the alternatives may prove too costly, could require changes in our driving patterns, and may influence the fundamental economics of road building.
The truth is, the cost of change would be insignificant compared to maintaining the status quo. The real issue, the change your style of driving, could prove politically too difficult, be misunderstood, or represent a commitment to changing the inertia inherent in tackling traffic problems, and associated infrastructure.
For example, it would require the U.S Department of Transport, at the opening ceremony of the new East Los Angeles Airport link, to admit that the 20 billion dollars spent on this short highway, environmentally unsound, illogical, and serving only the interests of those who constructed it, was a waste of money. An unlikely scenario, but one that could be repeated in almost every advanced country in the world.
Sometimes however, conventional political wisdom is overruled. In San Francisco during the nineteen-sixties, voters decided to halt all thruway building, running contrary to the policies of Mayor Allioto's administration. All construction immediately stopped, regardless of the stage completed . What the citizens of San Francisco discovered, was that while the traffic problems didn't improve, they didn't deteriorate either.
Building new fast roads does not necessarily increase transport efficiency, though it does encourage motorists to change their driving habits, often for the worse. Unnecessary journeys, low vehicle occupancy, and irregular speed efficiency are the immediate effects. If building new roads only increases the problem, is there a solution?
In Germany, the the Parliamentary Secretary on the Environment, Her Schmidtbauer believes that the German Federal Government has the answer. In his view, the need to keep traffic flowing can only be achieved by reducing and eventually eliminating conventional traffic controls. He sees a system with few fixed road signs and no traffic lights. The feasibility of this idea is not outlandish, but it does represent a new way of looking at personal transport. The car and highway would have to interact in a rationally controlled environment.
Her Schmidtbauer is not alone. Throughout Europe and America, engineers are looking to system controls to solve these problems. PERFECT WHEELS sees the future of personal transport in this way. The principle is to look at the role the car performs. If the car is a system of personal transportation that takes passengers from one location to another, then the way in which it is designed should reflect that idea. If on the other hand it is an articulation of personal freedom and expression, then its role as a system of transportation must be changed. PERFECT WHEELS addresses the first concept of the car, and offers a solution to the second use in a unique way.
In producing the efficient personal transport vehicle, first consideration must be given to how it relates to its purpose. If indeed the idea is to move individuals or small groups from one location to another, then the first element of that idea is one of decision making. It requires knowledge of route, traffic and road conditions and length of stay. At present the controlling of this movement is left to strategic directions and an imposed system of stops and go's to regulate flow. Unfortunately where the basic notion of the system breaks down, is it imposes an abstract logic on a system not responsive to logic. Car and driver operate independently from the control system.
It is as if the telephone system had no way of knowing the route and destination of each telephone call, and no rational way of apportioning routes for calls.
If there are any true parallels to traffic control they are rather more organic than they may appear. Consider the idea that traffic is a large interactive mass where condition and decision making constantly changes. With that proposition in mind the first question is WHO MAKES THE DECISIONS! The answer is the driver, armed with the scant information he sees in his immediate environment, hears through radio communication, is conditioned by speed limits or flow sign communications. In other words most decisions are made independently without reasonable information... by guesswork .
PERFECT WHEELS sees the proposition that the modern personal transporter must supply, receive and analyse information while constantly interacting with its environment, as essential to its effective use. The technology has existed for some time. Curiously it is found in avionics, ships navigation and closest to the car, in the management of armoured security vans. Aircraft for the most part fly by wire, using such devices as automatic pilots that determine speed, height and direction. Ships use satellite navigation, radar and beacons to plot their routes and understand the naval traffic situation at a glance. Finally modern security companies plot routes, activity, position and speed of their vehicles by satellite and cellular radio to ensure their security.
This all sounds expensive, but in reality an electronic brain for the car, is less expensive than the public would be led to believe. Already most modern cars carry greater computing power than the original Apollo space capsules in their engine management systems alone. The car has already become a minor Nintendo game.
Satellite technology and computer technology is not only comparatively cheap, easy to use, and reliable, but offers the ability to interact with a central data base instantaneously.
Installation of electronic infrastructures on existing highways is cheaper than building new roads, and this has spurred project development in Europe, the USA and Japan. The "Drive" project in Europe looks to provide an integrated digital European map and controlled road system by the end of the decade. In the USA, the Intelligent Vehicle Highway System (IVHS) has built test systems in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Orlando. The Japanese have 250,000 smart cars operating on their roads now.
The advantage of constantly reporting direction, destination, speed and location, is that the car can be fed with current up to date information on possible areas of congestion that could delay the journey. Storage space for the vehicle can be constantly evaluated, so instead of arriving at a destination only to find no parking space, your car can be directed to a free space. The efficiency of this system has planning benefits as well. Instead of imposing a logic that seemingly remedies projected problems based on sample information, planners would be capable of making rational decisions based on real information and constantly updated data.
The cost reduction to motorists and taxpayers would allow for more ambitious and inventive traffic control devices to be used ever more reducing dependence on old expensive technology and ideas requiring massive building programs.
Systems regulating traffic flow directly, such as speed regulators, along with destination and route computers would ultimately eliminate the need for_speed limits, traffic control and pedestrian signals. By regulating speed through internal sensing devices and computer operated satellite transponders, the personal transporter can always travel at the most efficient and safest speed for occupants, other drivers and pedestrians.
Systems based on radar, can be used to convoy cars at surprisingly high speeds. By eliminating traffic congestion, surface public transport would benefit, from the real time reduction of road usage by cars. Air pollution would be dramatically reduced, as the time cars, busses and
commercial traffic remain on the road would be shortened. The costs of road maintenance, traffic control systems and personnel to operate them, would be decreased or eliminated Finally, fingers drumming on steering wheels accompanied by driving stress, shaking fists, and other anti-social behaviour would be a thing of the past, unless you liked it.
The idea of an intelligent car might mean that drivers may have to reevaluate their role and driving needs, but unless ideas such as these progress, that role may be changed anyway. The cold truth is, that personal transport is no longer an exclusive reserve of the wealthy where individual style and performance brings distinction and exclusivity.
Now for the most part, cars are systems for easily getting from one place to another, and the only difference between them and public transport is that you get coughed on less.
Return to Green Motoring
Return to Home Page