I’m a fan of Karen Lynn Allen’s blog. This week she listed eleven disruptive technologies that she sees coming in the next few years. Self driving taxis, security drones, fast food restaurants with no human staff, mechanically recycled water, citywide heating districts… I can just see Amazon’s flying monkeys delivering pints of late night artisanal ice cream to people’s rooftops in Williamsburg on hot August nights.
Personally I agree that all the technological bells and whistles will be implemented in the not-too-distant future. I just think we’re all going to be surprised and a bit disappointed in exactly how things play out. There will be diminishing returns with our love affair with gizmos.
There are techniques for squeezing more utility out of existing infrastructure that I do see working well enough though. The new Road Zipper on the Golden Gate Bridge seems like a relatively cost effective patch for a straightforward problem.
The Zipper is a garbage truck sized vehicle that moves a continuous ribbon of concrete median barriers from side to side each day. Traffic is heavier in one direction in the morning and heavier in the opposite direction in the evening. The Zipper effectively creates more capacity at rush hour for a whole lot less money than a new or expanded bridge.
As for the self driving electric cars driving on highways that defrost themselves with seasonal heat pumps… That’s a tremendous amount of money and complexity just to get people from Point A to Point B. I’m working off the assumption that over the next twenty years we’re going to be entirely preoccupied with finding the money to keep our existing roads paved.
Have you ever heard of this crazy new fad called “living in a walkable neighborhood and riding a bike around town?” It costs almost nothing and you don’t need a satellite guidance system or municipal bond to get it to work.