The first ‘autonomous vehicle’ was demonstrated back in 1958. That car was equipped with magnetic coils and moved along a wire buried under the road. Today’s automobiles have about seventy on-board minicomputers – more than the number NASA used to send a man to the moon. Google’s first prototype self-driving automobile has only a start and stop button – no pedals. Will we eventually stop calling them driverless cars – just as we stopped calling the automobile a ‘horseless carriage’?
Technological innovations like sensors, Big Data and various communication and energy technologies are the key enablers of autonomous vehicles and efficient use of infrastructure. Digital travel agents will know your schedule, your behavioural profile and your preferences, and will use real-time information to suggest routes. And if you don’t mind which route, you can leave it all to the agent. Sensors in different vehicles will communicate information normally invisible to the driver or vehicle in the form of augmented reality. How will our mobility patterns and car usage be influenced by information technology for data collection, nanotechnology for highly sensitive sensors, and cognitive science for recognizing our thoughts? Are we heading towards a city with empty, self-driving cars looking for somewhere to park? Or will automobiles become more like taxis, while public transport will become more individualised?
Virtual reality will provide real-life awareness of environments in which we are not physically present, making use of all our senses: hearing, sight, touch, smell, and taste. Will that generate more social contacts in addition to face-to-face encounters, or will it replace those encounters or our desire to travel? Or will supersonic commercial jets and vacuum tube trains capable of speeds of up to 8,000 km/h reinforce our desire to experience the real deal?