Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Advanced Mass Transportation Network

Elon Musk has finally announced his greater plans behind starting a tunnel-boring company. He's looking to accomplish more than just boring tunnels - he wants to provide the means of transport through them:

To solve the problem of soul-destroying traffic...

  • Increased safety. A fully stabilized autonomous vehicle eliminates human error and the ability to “swerve off-course.”
  • Increased speed. The controlled autonomous sled allows for speeds of 125 miles per hour in urban settings.
  • Multiple payloads. The electric skate can transport automobiles, goods, and/or people. And if one adds a vacuum shell, it is now a Hyperloop Pod which can travel at 600+ miles per hour.
  • Eliminating hazardous emissions. Electric sleds are zero-emission vehicles, and thus do not output hazardous gases like internal combustion cars do.  Every mile the sled transports a gas-burning vehicle becomes a zero-emission mile.

Musk is actually maneuvering to replace existing mass transportation (train/subway/bus) with a fleet of smaller automated vehicles, each of which is capable of independently carrying people or goods from any place to any other. Think of how the internet works - it's a digital packet-switching network for information transport - able to route all kinds of packets of information from any point to any other, on a massive scale. So imagine being able to do this with people or goods, instead of just information. Self-driving technology is the key to implementing this kind of system. Experts have said that driverless cars will never really take off until they have their own exclusive dedicated highways, to avoid problems with non-autonomous vehicles. Musk's tunnels may be turning out to be such a separate dedicated transit network, capable of higher-efficiency throughput.

With India being an underdeveloped country lacking all kinds of infrastructure, such new transportation technology could be easier to implement, because there's not as much already-existing infrastructure to disrupt - it would be like writing on a clean slate. Post-war Japan and Korea were able to gain tremendous competitive advantage when they rebuilt their destroyed infrastructure from scratch with all-new infrastructure.

India also has a much poorer population base, for whom affordability of automobile ownership is a big hurdle - that's why we're a "2-wheeler economy". Driving safety is also an issue, and many car owners actually have drivers to drive for them.The availability of vast fleets/pools of independent autonomous vehicles to serve the needs of the general population on demand, would mean a lower overall number of vehicles required by society, while improving safety and reducing insurance costs. It would also radically reduce the congestion problem, and this includes reducing the need for parking. Instead of parking your car somewhere to have it sit there unproductively, as soon as you step out of a vehicle it then immediately departs to be used by someone else. Such congestion relief could be particularly crucial for an overcrowded country like India.

A personalized mass-transport system which allows everyone access to the same convenience of travel, means a more egalitarian society where everyone's needs are better served - which can translate into votes. Modi has certain pet projects like GIFT (Gujarat International Finance Tech-City) which could perhaps be used to test out these kinds of new ideas.

Union Minister for Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Nitin Gadkari has also come out with some initiatives in support of advanced transportation - perhaps he should add this latest idea to his list:

If India were to become an early adopter, it could gain valuable experience and intellectual property in the development of such technology, and eventually export it to other countries.

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