Friendly Cars

Will Pod-Cars Make Us Lose Our Curiosity?

With the threat of unregulated urban sprawl, increasing air pollution rates, and seemingly endless traffic jams, there is mounting pressure placed on urban planners and regional governments to design cities that can manage the growth of urban populations and escalating private car ownership numbers. Today, some of the largest cities that are experiencing some of the fastest growth rates in the world are in China. In order to allow the megacities to function, there have been several novel ideas in transport technology, which if implemented, could herald in a new age of new transportation. One such design encompasses the introduction of modularised pod cars, which could aid commuter navigation and ease the strains on road congestion and traffic flow. However, will our curiosity in the future development of different transport types and our need to develop safe, reliable and environmentally friendly vehicles, clash with the social status of individual car ownership and lessen our ability to learn and navigate? 

   A light blue 3D plan view against a purple background    A light blue 3D plan view against a purple background

China: Upwardly Mobile

China is currently a world leader in green technology. Recently, Chinese innovation and curiosity led to the development of the Transit Explorer Bus (TEB), an elevated public transport system that is able to glide over the gridlocked streets of inner cities. Futuristic in design, the Trans Explorer Bus is supported on either side of an existing road network by a series of rail lines, upon which the two supporting limbs of the bus slide across. The TEB will be able to glide at speeds of up to 60km per hour and transport up to 1,400 passengers, while conventional vehicles continue to drive beneath. Clearly, the Chinese are curious about future developments in transport technology, a trend that has been driven by the recent socio-economic growth in the country. Upwardly mobile, by 2009 the Chinese overtook the United States with regards to car ownership, forming the largest global car market; in 2015, 21.1 million cars were sold in China. However, there are concerns that increase car ownership, coupled with concerns over air pollution, could threaten the functioning of major cities. Accordingly, the advent of modularised pod cars could compliment the development of the TEBs and promote China to the forefront of green transport and allow the modern cities to function.

Driverless cars, hover boards and drones often captivate the imagination of future transport technologies, and networks of driverless cars are what the Italian engineer and industrial designer Tommaso Gecchelin typically envisions for the future of our cities. However, the vehicles in Gecchelin’s future world are flat-sided and identically sized, cube-like in shape, and able to accommodate six seated and four standing passengers. The concept has been called Next, and will consist of modularised pod cars that run on tracks and have the ability to link up during operation, providing both shared autonomous public transport and on-demand private vehicles. Gecchelin believes that the pod cars will employ driverless car mechanisms, which would allow the vehicles to sense, plan and act, as well as avoid traffic obstacles and connect with other pod car units. Highly ambitious, Gecchelin hopes that the Next pod cars will be in operation by as soon as the early 2020s.

Transport Solutions or Cognitive Restrictions?

It would seem apparent that the first generation of Next pod cars will provide the future solution to many urban transport problems. Yet Gecchelin maybe over optimistic with his 2020 predictions. There are several restrictions for the production and operation of pod cars, especially concerning the energy requirements for each vehicle and also how to engineer software that can reliably navigate the ever changing road systems. Moreover, will the public and business owners be willing to abandon their vehicles or withstand the desire to purchase a new car in order to rely on a system of modularised pod cars? How much will the service cost? And will the pod cars be aesthetically pleasing and cool? There are also concerns that the user-friendly nature of many modern automobiles, which incorporate parking and steering assistance and autopilot navigation technologies, are detrimental to an individual’s ability to learn, which could alter the functioning of the brain and ultimately lead to a reduction in our inherent curiosity with technological advancements due to the complacence with our modern, all-encompassing transport types.

The future of our urban transport systems are set to revolutionise the way we travel and also the manner in which our cities are planned and function. Just like the advent of the Smart Phone and the Internet, the introduction of modularised pod cars are likely to streamline the way we live and efficiently assist with our day-to-day activities. In addition, like the newly developed Transit Explorer Buses, the use of pod cars will lower the emission of greenhouse gases and reduce urban smog, while also providing a safe and reliable means of navigating city centers. However, could the development of pod cars reduce our natural ability to learn new skills, including driving and navigating, and subsequently alter the functioning of the brain by reducing the necessity to learn and also diminishing our general curiosity in the wider world? Will we continue to ask the right questions and identify areas for improvement in order to help further future scientific understanding and innovation? Or will there always be new problems that arise from tomorrow’s solutions? Only time will tell.

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