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The future of transportation is already here

Apr 13, 2017 / Alex Moura

Let’s shake ourselves out of our four-wheeled stupor, look at the vehicles and devices being developed, and reimagine how we’ll move around our cities, says TED technology curator Alex Moura.

Humanity has come a long way from traveling by horse, but when we consider the future of transportation in cities, too many of us are still stuck in the 18th century. We still envision our streets full of four-wheel chariots (minus the horses), and our future as relying on cars or car-like vehicles, because that’s all we know. Why this myopia? For most automakers and transportation companies, adhering to the status quo is more profitable than experimenting; their business models, even for forward thinkers like Tesla, depend on their keeping drivers tethered with maintenance and service. And builders and urban planners have learned to limit their thinking because existing regulations and clunky political processes have made it nearly impossible to innovate without years of negotiations. As a result, we’re laying the foundations for a transportation future that carries forward the problems of the past.

But there can be another way forward, a new vision of transportation that upsets the four-wheel chariot model. And signs of it are already rolling across the landscape. By looking at some of the most advanced vehicles and devices out there — not just concept cars and prototypes but vehicles that are already in use or being road-tested in the real world — we can start to see a more interesting, less car-based future. Based on this new crop of transportation-related devices, I’m making the following four predictions:

Car

Courtesy of i-Road.

1. Cars will become much, much smaller.

While SUV and truck sales have been on the rise worldwide, that trend has been boosted by low gasoline prices, which can’t last given the finite supplies of fossil fuels. As we move forward, personal urban transportation will be dominated by individual vehicles. In 2015, Toyota launched a trial run of its three-wheeled i-Road electric vehicles — which resemble an enclosed motorcycle and fit only a driver and perhaps a small passenger — through a network of sharing stations in Tokyo. (We road-tested them at TED, too.) The project is now expanding throughout Japan, a nation with more electric car-charging stations than gas stations. In a bid to become the first country to embrace smart transportation systems, government officials have gone as far as trying to create international car-charging standards.

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