Our hyper-urbanised life of the 21th century will rely heavily on urban transportation. Individual lifestyles, flexible work rhythms and unconstrained leisure time activities all encourage transportation. On top of that, think of all the cargo that needs to enter the city for us to eat, drink, work in our offices and live our private lives. That leaves no conclusion other than that the future of transportation will rely on super-intelligence in vehicles, control systems and planning tools. That was the main premise of the Dutch foresight project “Transportation of tomorrow starts today”. Let’s go deeper into the super-intelligence of transport systems and find out what it could do to the future of transportation.
Super-intelligence implies that the intelligence of the system as a whole reaches higher levels, because of the integration of intelligence in all the components of the system. Intelligent vehicles, an intelligent infrastructure, intelligent control system, intelligent commuters, intelligent cargo and intelligent enablers of information. Following the Dutch foresight study, these are the components of an intelligent transportation system.
In super-intelligent vehicles there is no need of a driver. The intelligence makes it really autonomous. Not only drives the vehicle by itself, it also responds to signals from other vehicles or the infrastructure. This is the future that Google car presents us. A partial solution where drivers could interfer, would be steering a car by using only your eyes. EyeDriver does that for you. It can drive autonomous, but can also be steered by gaze control. BrainDriver is a bit of the same concept, but then thinking about a direction is already sufficient. Driverless public transport is already very much mainstream. Think about airport shuttles and metro trains. Passenger airlines without human pilots are also a real possibility, just like the military drones.
An intelligent infrastructure communicates to other aspects of the transport system. LED’s in the road surface providing warnings about incidents, self healing concrete that enhances life span of roads and bridges, bike lanes that converts sunlight into electricity. Smart highways innovate the road deck with designs such as Glow-in-the-dark Lining, Dynamic Paint, Interactive Light and Electric Priority Lane (see the video below). The goal is to make roads which are more sustainable and interactive by using light, energy and road signs that automatically adapt to the traffic situation.
Intelligent control systems use real-time information to direct traffic streams and respond to vehicles and everything else in order to find solutions for traffic situations. Smart grids can communicate with vehicles to bring electricity to those cars and bikes which have the biggest need.
When cars, roads and control systems become more intelligent, the human commuter cannot stay behind. Augmented reality, like Google glass, can present alternative routes, when traffic jams are expected. The smart agents of such apps can be customized to know a person’s preferences and respond to their daily habits.
Even cargo can become more intelligent and communicate about its destination. Intelligent cargo enables packages to interact with their surroundings and make context aware decisions. In this way the planning process of cargo freight happens autonomously.
For all these forms of intelligence, processing huge amount of data is crucial. When the computational power of computer processors goes up, their will be endless new opportunities for artificial intelligence. Current ideas for augmented reality and the many other concepts discussed here, are all just waiting for the fast and tiny processors of tomorrow’s smart devices. The smart cities of the future could embrace this new technology and we might see unprecedented smooth and autonomous transportation.