Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Future of Cars

By 2015 most cars will be powered by electricity from next generation hydrogen cells and longer lasting higher power batteries, using solid polymer electrolytes instead of liquid. These will be capable of being charged rapidly at the new electric vehicle infrastructure power outlets such as traditional fuel stations and garages, enabling simple recharging and replacement of batteries and liquid hydrogen storage.
Computer systems will increasingly control all vehicle functions as standard- including those already in use for navigation, entertainment, collision avoidance, adaptive cruise control, anti-collision radar, safety crash protection, stability and automatic parking.

By 2020 in most larger cities, small efficient electric cars including single and dual passenger variations will be available for flexible and inexpensive hire for local transport needs via smart phone managed pickup pools, servicing urban neighbourhoods (Ref Future of Cities).

The major advance however will be in the form of fully automated cars, already being trialled- capable of navigating autonomously and guided by sensor/ processor embedded smart roads and transit corridors; obeying traffic laws and avoiding collisions with other objects and vehicles. They will also be capable of interpreting traffic forecasts and communicating via local networks with other vehicles and public transit corridors to reduce road congestion. In addition they will be responsive to passenger requirements, linked via the wireless Web to their passenger activity profiles- appointment schedules, regular destinations such as schools, child minding, leisure centres etc.

The car of 2020 will also be capable of providing and monitoring in-vehicle entertainment and communication, emergency assistance, scheduling and payment services for power charging, parking and security. Automated transit control will facilitate traffic streaming and congestion management, with specialised car, bus and cycle transit lanes in operation throughout most urban areas.

By 2030 most individual cars will have transformed into autonomous transport pods or capsules for individual and multiple passenger urban use. Pods will link seamlessly to other minimum carbon-emission forms of transport for local neighbourhood and inter-urban movement- light rail, electric cycles, scooters and bicycles. Pod streaming infrastructure will link to smart transport hubs, providing automated fast urban and intercity metro rail/bus transport services.

Pod infrastructure will be particularly valuable in high density areas such as the East Coast of the US which are already feeling the impact of climate change through major blizzards and ice events making it impossible for standard transport vehicles and infrastructure to function. Underground pod systems in such areas as well as those experiencing regular heat waves will be the only practical alternative solution.

By 2040 the car as we know it today will cease to exist in the developed world’s urban areas. In its place will be multi-purpose intelligent transit pods- systems seamlessly linked and customised to individual and community needs. Most ground-based vehicles except for bicycles/scooters will be totally autonomous and humans will become passengers only. All instructions managing human and urban infrastructure interaction such as pick-up/destination location and schedule requirements will be relayed by mobile links and automatically accessed by the pod system via the Intelligent Web 4.0 (Ref Future Web).

Autonomous pod/vehicle networks will then allow the primary role of passenger transportation to transform- merging with information, entertainment and education functions during transit times; providing major leisure and work productivity gains, both in urban and country population centres.

By 2050 3-dimensional multi-level transport systems will be in common use. Such systems will be suspended above the networked transit routes of cities with lower levels restricted to bicycles, scooters and walking. All levels will link with major transport hubs and mass electric rail for super-fast autonomous intercity and new low energy system air travel. The complex navigation, service and logistical decisions involved will be managed by adaptive intelligent software agents, operating via the dedicated and secure virtual networks of the Intelligent Web.

Humans and their transport infrastructure will be seamlessly and permanently inter-woven.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Future of Space Exploration

By 2020- the Constellation moon-landing project will be back on track, allowing humans to return to the moon following the Apollo missions of the 60s and 70s, to begin creating a permanent space colony and base for future galactic exploration. The International Space Station will continue to play a vital test launch, scientific research, communications and training role, supporting future space missions.

India, China and Japan will also have proceeded with their own exploratory missions to the moon and planets, but will increasingly work cooperatively with the US and EU under International Space Treaty protocols administered by the UN. Other middle rank G20 countries such as Russia, Brazil, Turkey, Canada, Australia, UK, Germany, France and South Africa will also be major individual contributors to future space programs. Space exploration will have become a global cooperative enterprise.

The Constellation Orion Space Shuttle replacement will be launched in 2015, supporting the space station and future lunar missions, by providing a means of repair and escape for astronauts if the shuttles are damaged by space junk or solar radiation. Power sources for space vehicles and interstellar probes will routinely combine plutonium nuclear power, solar sail energy, gravity slingshot and ion drive technologies.

The construction and maintenance of future space stations, including the lunar colony, together with its instrumentation maintenance, will be carried out largely autonomously by robots, involving eventually the mining and transportation of local materials.

By 2030- most of the solar system's major objects- its planets, moons and larger asteroids will have been visited by probes and tested for signs of life. In addition, extensive modelling of the sun’s convection dynamics and heliosphere, extending the ICE missions, will be critical to gaining a better understanding of its cyclic impact on global warming. A significant sample of Mars terrain will also have been mapped by the next generation robot explorers, which will finally determine the existence of past and present microbial life on the red planet.

The potential for life to exist on many of the extrasolar planets similar to earth and within a proximity of 30 light years, will also have been determined by the SIM- Space Interferometry Mission; rejuvenated by NASA because of growing public awareness and involvement in extraterrestial life search and contact programs such as SETI. In addition, the prevalence and nature of complex pre-life organic molecules within the solar system and near space will have been extensively mapped to determine its likely origins and nature.

An asteroid and comet defence system will also have been established as a high priority, capable of tracking and eliminating most major threats to Earth. The threat to space missions from space junk and subatomic particle and electromagnetic impact will also be largely eliminated through extensive mapping and sweep technology as well as the use of new graphene-based protective materials.

The private sector’s commercial involvement in space missions will be increasingly significant, eventually surpassing Government investment and NASA’s role as primary project manager. Space tourism will become feasible but remain strictly limited because of the prohibitive energy costs and the ability to realistically replicate such experiences more safely in virtual reality.

By 2040- all navigation and exploration tasks will be automated and managed by the powerful capability of the Intelligent Web 4.0, extended to encompass communication with all spacecraft, exploratory vehicles, telescope observatories, satellites and robots involved in projects and missions across the solar system. This will include the use of intelligent robotic probes, relying on their own decision capability to analyse relevant data and determine items of interest for further exploration.

The nature of dark energy will also have been resolved supported by the $2 billion WFIRST- Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope project, centrepiece of NASA’s next decade development program.

The entire space enterprise will be linked and coordinated via massive e-infrastructure such as the European Grid Environment- EGEE, which integrates networks, grids, middleware, computational resources, data repositories, instruments, and operational support for global virtual science collaborations. A vast amount of data will need to be downloaded, stored and processed by global space programs. EGEE currently has access to more than 20,000 petabytes of storage and 80,000 CPUs. Projects by 2045 will increase this level of data processing by a factor of 100.

Globalisation and cooperation will have reached an advanced stage on earth in the face of the extreme risks to society from global warming. Therefore the risk of conflict between the major powers over sovereignty rights resulting from space exploration will be minimal. As the space program gathers momentum, humans will increasingly see themselves as belonging to one world in this domain- not separate nations.

By 2050- colonisation programs, including Mars and possibly the moons Europa and Titan will be launched, as well as the first interstellar robotic probes. These will be capable of self-replicating and evolving as agents in their own right. This will herald the beginning of second phase of the exploration and colonisation of the galaxy, as Transhumans move beyond their own home solar base and accelerate the search for new knowledge and experiences; including finally linking with other intelligent life forms.

Starships will follow later in the century, transporting the first interstellar robotic explorers; initially powered by nuclear pulse propulsion systems but later by more advanced technologies based on new physics. These will allow the nearest stars to be reached within several decades, with transhuman explorers following, primarily as observers and communicators in non-navigational support roles.

The primary task of exploring galactic space will be carried out instead by autonomous, self-learning, computationally-advanced probes, managed by a vast communications and knowledge network, extending across the galaxy.
This process will proceed exponentially as the ecosystem of smart AI probes replicates throughout the cosmos, with all life eventually becoming co-existent with the universe.