Making use of the existing roadways is more eco friends than investing trillions into a new system of rails, rails that would never connect to all of the suburban neighborhoods where everyone lives in America.
The Bus makes the flexible mass transit routes, but they do not come often enough in most areas to be time efficient to use. This is why gas powered cars dominate the personal transportation scene in America. Buses are diesel and dirty today, but tomorrow they can be electric, inductive charging built into the streets. Electric final drive is the torque friendly solution to the rev range problem with all internal combustion engines. Electric final drive means emissions can be controlled at the power plant, with effective heavy multi-pass high efficiency emissions control systems. Even if you plug electric vehicles into modern coal power, that is still better than burning dinosaur goo in millions of privately owned piston engines vehicles running on gasoline. The Long Tailpipe
Today most personal vehicles are made of iron and are powered by a liquid cooled fuel injected piston engine that burns gasoline. Newer vehicles release up to 40x less pollutants than classical vehicles that lacked emissions controls. The catalytic converter was instrumental as technology to enable super ultra low emission vehicles or SULEV's to become a commercial reality. Perhaps only the VW TDI programs is moving backwards in this respect #dieselgate
The tail pipe is an externality, the driver externalizing the exhaust of the vehicle into the air that other people are breathing. In heavy traffic congestion, one vehicle inhales a mixture of tail pipe emissions from the other vehicles mixed with "fresh" air, and burns that with its fuel, releasing emissions that get sucked into another vehicle. This produces a plume corridor of carcinogens that slowly poison that people in traffic, less they leave their vehicles HVAC controller on Recirculate, to keep the diesel soot and funk from other vehicles from constantly being sucked into the cabin. If changing the climate control settings makes the air inside you car smell better, its probably a healthy thing to do. I have dreamed of bringing along composite tanks of fresh air to keep the cabin air clean, running a HEPA filter system with activated carbon to pull the dust, pollen, soot and funk along with VOC's out of the air in the cabin when driving down a congested traffic corridor.
Consumers today have a few cleaner technology choices like the Toyota Prius family, or any of the Fully Electric vehicles like the BMW i3 or Nissan Leaf or Tesla Model S. Still others like the Chevy Volt and BMW i8 exist as plug-in hybrids. Ford has a power-train program under development that lets you pick a vehicle, and then you will be able to pick gasoline, gasoline hybrid, diesel, diesel hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or fully electric. Today Ford is big on the Eco-boost, making the engine smaller and more efficient with a intelligent turbo-charger and direct injection. The 1L eco-boost engine is the coolest one so far. Going forward into 2018 there will be a lot more clean technology choices for new car buyers to choose from.
Self-driving cars will go further, with less fuel, grater safety and lower emissions. This is true regardless of which power-train technology is used. Over time we will see the auto-pilot features trickle down into entry level vehicles of all types. By taking the human driver out of the equation, so too is removed emotional instability that causes people to drive dangerously and aggressively, putting added wear on their vehicle while also spewing out loads more pollution, they ruin their fuel economy and increase the risks of an accident for everyone. When we take the human out of the equation of driving, the computer will do whatever it can to minimize safety risks, and this means pure practical logic based vehicle control. Computer controlled vehicles will achiever at least 30% better fuel economy verse the human driven counter parts.
At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, many new technologies have been shown that will pave the way for consumer vehicles with polished autopilot, now and over the next few years. We will see sensors of all kinds used to enable vehicles to "see" and they can "see" in 360deg, very unlike humans which are constrained to forward 3D views, mirrors and backup cameras giving us some hints about what is happening around us, minus the blindspots created by the safety pillars that keep the roof up and protect passengers from roll over crushing. Because the computer can see in all direction far more clearly, through rain and fog, with Lidar, Radar, Sonar, and other technologies, the vehicle has better sigh, the vision happens on the computer hardware that takes in the sensor data to make driving system control operations. Yes, artificial intelligence is needed to really make this kind of system shine. It needs to be able to know the difference between people, curbs, stop signs, traffic signals, animals of all types, wet or dry or snow or ice covered pavement, different road surfaces, gravel, dirt, paved, concrete, asphalt, etc, etc. Narrow band AI with cloud compute assist is the key for now, over 4G LTE networks. Today this means many thousands of dollars and over 100lbs of computer equipment, tomorrow it will be baked into the OEM vehicle designs.
OPEC thinks that 94% of cars sold in the year 2040 will use gasoline as their primary energy source, citing developing markets in asia as the driver of low cost vehicle purchases. The gasoline engine having been refined over the last 100+ years, low cost mass produced variants are already at work in scooters all over the world. Even Meg and I have one, a 2013 Honda PCX. We both with that the $4500 PCX was electric, but that was not possible today. Only a handful of smaller companies are making electric scooters, and nothing as polished or enduring as the Honda. Honda makes the nicest small piston engines, flat out, no holds bar in anything that a normal person can buy. Honda has a tradition of building rock solid small engines for lawn mowers, motorcycles, and just about any other kind of power equipment you can think of from pressure washers to backup generators.
I do not have a crystal ball, but I do read a lot of Green Car Congress, and it seems reasonable based on the content there to predict that metal air rechargeable batteries will have gasoline like energy density within about 15 years. Up next we have Lithium Sulfur offering a 2x improvement over Lithium Cobalt Carbon of today. I have been toying with the idea of building an electric bicycle battery with Lithium Thionyl Chloride D cells of 18AH and 3.6v. At bulk they are $8 each, making a very expensive single use pack. I got the idea from the Moon Rovers which back then used a large single use Silver Zinc Oxide battery set.
The Raht Racer seems to be the right idea for a clean technology future. It addresses all the problems of a normal bicycle being used year round. It is a human electric pedal hybrid.
Right now human activity, mostly coal, oil and gas burning, emits more than 30 billion tons of CO2 into Earths only thin fragile atmosphere. Crazy changes in weather are now starting to happen regularly as the impact from this activity starts to show its effects in weather and climate, the term Climate Change defining the nature of what is happening. The big debate between industry and government is wether or not human activity is the cause of the climate changes we are observing. Many in the oil sector point to the variable output of our local star, the Sun as the cause. Others say that climate change is natural and has been happening long before humans started burning carbon energy sources.
But what about air quality where people actually live, commuter, play and work? What about the air that we all share. We are all in it together here on earth, one people, human, one civilization, history unfolding before out eyes. We pave our own way forward and choose to make the future what we make of it. We have agency to build better vehicles, cleaner technology, to embrace and invest in better solutions, for a brighter, cleaner, safer future, free from preventable diseases like lung cancer that forms from breathing tail pipe pollution. Ref. Krzyżanowski, Michał, Birgit Kuna-Dibbert, and Jürgen Schneider. Health effects of transport-related air pollution. WHO Regional Office Europe, 2005.
The vehicles of tomorrow will go further with less fuel. I will cite the development of the Honda PCX150 as an example. It achieves the fuel economy of a 50cc scooter by combining fuel injection with liquid cooling, friction reduction and a brushless 350w combined starter alternator directly mounted to the crank, with a 150cc single piston engine, and a 7ZS AGM lead acid battery giving it the starting juice, acting as an energy collecting buffer for the head lights, dash lights, tail lights, and turn signals. With 13HP, it can go freeway speeds 2up with Meg and I on the back, the CVT tranny automatically making the drivetrain action happen, just twist and go. This was a radical improvement over the previous generations of scooters. In 2015 Honda updated the PCX with a large gas tank (more range) and a full LED kit, including the Headlights.
I am not going to hold my breath for a hybrid two wheel drive (front hub motor) bike, but I know that at least one is under development. http://www.gizmag.com/hero-motocorp-turbo-diesel-hybrid-electric-2wd-motorcycle/30768/
And with billions of people taking to the worlds roadways with vehicles, I believe that lighter smaller vehicles will reign supreme in the future, like the next generation BMW i3. I believe that aluminum and carbon fiber will replace iron as the dominate building material, that plastics will replace metals where reinforced plastics are almost as strong, but also much safer. With fiber-reinforced plastics or FRP, automakers can achieve substantial weight savings, while also improving safety. The work that BMW is doing with its iDrive technologies is really pushing the Toyota Hybrid platform forward.
With millions of Hybrid vehicles sold, today Toyota is the dominate clean technology player. Tomorrow all the other automakers will be trying their best to catch up. This means lots of cool newfangled vehicle technology yet to come. We know that the vehicles of tomorrow will be cleaner and better than the ones today, and that innovation is driving all the improvements!