Tag Archives: transportation

electric cars about to boom

According to Bloomberg, electric cars are set for a big boom by 2020 and could lead to a peak and decline in oil demand sometime in the 2020s.

Electric cars are coming fast — and that’s not just the opinion of carmakers anymore. Total SA, one of the world’s biggest oil producers, is now saying EVs may constitute almost a third of new-car sales by the end of the next decade.

The surge in battery powered vehicles will cause demand for oil-based fuels to peak in the 2030s, Total Chief Energy Economist Joel Couse said at Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s conference in New York on Tuesday. EVs will make up 15 percent to 30 percent of new vehicles by 2030, after which fuel “demand will flatten out,” Couse said. “Maybe even decline…”

“By 2020 there will be over 120 different models of EV across the spectrum,” said Michael Liebreich, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “These are great cars. They will make the internal combustion equivalent look old fashioned.”

April 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

Most hopeful stories:

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • I first heard of David Fleming, who wrote a “dictionary” that provides “deft and original analysis of how our present market-based economy is destroying the very foundations―ecological, economic, and cultural― on which it depends, and his core focus: a compelling, grounded vision for a cohesive society that might weather the consequences.”
  • Judges are relying on algorithms to inform probation, parole, and sentencing decisions.
  • I finished reading Rainbow’s End, a fantastic Vernor Vinge novel about augmented reality in the near future, among other things.

The Retail Meltdown of 2017

The Atlantic has an article about “the retail meltdown of 2017”.

There have been nine retail bankruptcies in 2017—as many as all of 2016. J.C. Penney, RadioShack, Macy’s, and Sears have each announced more than 100 store closures. Sports Authority has liquidated, and Payless has filed for bankruptcy. Last week, several apparel companies’ stocks hit new multi-year lows, including Lululemon, Urban Outfitters, and American Eagle, and Ralph Lauren announced that it is closing its flagship Polo store on Fifth Avenue, one of several brands to abandon that iconic thoroughfare…

So, what the heck is going on? The reality is that overall retail spending continues to grow steadily, if a little meagerly. But several trends—including the rise of e-commerce, the over-supply of malls, and the surprising effects of a restaurant renaissance—have conspired to change the face of American shopping.

A lot of people like the car-dependent suburbs because they are perceived to be quiet, safe, and have good public education. But do people actually like sitting in traffic or have they seen that as a necessary price to pay. I like how the Place Shakers blog talks about this:

So what was the motivation [for the rise of auto-dependent retail]? I’d suggest it was (and still is, really) a desire for the easiest possible access to the stuff we want at the time — a desire so strong, it seems to me, that we began structuring our entire built environment around its fulfillment…

That’s why we built bigger arterials which fed bigger chain stores with more of the items we wanted to get our hands on. And why we built malls, where the variety of available goods seemed to increase exponentially. And it’s also why we established hefty parking minimums. Because you’re not effectively delivering on the promise of easy access to goods if you can pave the way to a warehouse full of stuff but leave no space to park within a few feet of the door. And parking within a few feet of the door is a fundamental part of the need being fulfilled.

But what happens when times and technologies change, and new ways of addressing our needs emerge? Suddenly we’re afforded new opportunities to prioritize how we spend our time and money.

In other words, we can get the stuff we want without spending so much time sitting in our cars, and we have figured out that there are other, better ways to be spending that time. I think something very similar is playing out with the trend of a lot of people working from home, at least on Fridays. By saving that commuting time to and from the office, your free up hours of your day for sleep, family, leisure, or extra productivity.

the middle seat

I like this idea for making the middle seat on airplanes just a bit more spacious and comfortable than the others, so people wouldn’t mind it so much and might even prefer it.

But if Molon Labe Designs gets its way, that panic could give way to placidity. The upstart Colorado aviation design firm wants to kill the middle seat’s middle child reputation. Its “stagger seat” concept sits slightly below and behind its neighbors, so it can be three inches wider than its window- and aisle-adjacent companions. It has its own armrests.

“Flying sucks, and design makes it suck less,” says Hank Scott, the CEO of Molon Labe, who’s currently in Germany to show off the prototype at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg. (BMW Groups’ Designworks and Panasonic Avionics also had a hand in the design.) By extending curved armrest back, the designers ensure the middle seater has access to at least half of its length. (“If you’re in the aisle or window seat, you couldn’t possibly steal the entire armrest—your elbows would be behind your back at a weird angle,” Scott says.) That also gives the middle seat’s in-flight entertainment system room to grow to a whopping 18 inches, compared to the puny 15-inch screens on other seat backs. For all this design prowess, however, this thing gets you nothing in extra legroom.

Tesla vs. Ford

BBC says Tesla’s market value is now greater than Ford’s.

At the close of trading Tesla had a market value of $49bn (£38bn), compared with Ford’s value of $46bn…

The firm delivered more than 25,000 cars in the first quarter, up 70% on the same quarter last year.

While Tesla’s sales are growing fast they are still a fraction of Ford’s, which sold almost 6.7 million vehicles in 2016.

Tesla delivered 76,000 electric cars last year.

The legacy Detroit car companies could be embracing the new technologies, but instead they are allowing themselves to be creatively destroyed. Their business model, I believe, is to keep cramming pickup trucks into developing countries until they burst at the seams. Meanwhile, Tesla and Google and Uber will pass them by and become the new face of the U.S. auto industry. Then next time Ford, GM, and Chrysler tell us they need a taxpayer bailout or the U.S. auto industry will disappear, we may not have to listen.

February 2016 in Review

3 most frightening stories

3 most hopeful stories

3 most interesting stories

  • The idea of growing human organs inside a pig, or even a viable human-pig hybrid, is getting very closeTiny brains can also be grown on a microchip. Bringing back extinct animals is also getting very close.
  • Russian hackers are cheating slot machines by figuring out the pattern on pseudo-random numbers they generate.
  • From a new book called Homo Deus: “For the first time ever, more people die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals put together. The average American is a thousand times more likely to die from binging at McDonalds than from being blown up by Al Qaeda.”

January 2017 in Review

I just realized I forgot to do a month in review post in January. Well, I had a lot going on in my personal life in January, most notably the arrival of a tiny new human being. Blog posts are not the only thing I forgot – I forgot to pay some important bills and to do some important paperwork at my job too.

3 most frightening stories

  • Cheetahs are in serious trouble.
  • The U.S. government may be “planning to roll back or dilute many of the provisions of Dodd-Frank, particularly those that protect consumers from toxic financial products and those that impose restrictions on banks”.
  • “Between 1946 and 2000, the US and the Soviet Union/Russia have intervened in about one of every nine competitive national-level executive elections.” The “Great Game” is back in Afghanistan.

3 most hopeful stories

3 most interesting stories

UPS trucks don’t turn left

UPS claims to save a lot of time, fuel, and reduce accidents significantly by avoiding left turns at intersections with no left turn signals. In other words, they circle right until they get where they need to go, and it ends up saving time, energy, and lives. I’m glad to see this – as someone who makes 99% of my own trips on foot, I know vehicles turning left with fast-moving oncoming traffic are incredibly risky for pedestrians. Some people are jerks and have no respect for human life. But during those other 1% of trips where I am the driver, I understand why even well-intentioned, ethical people can put pedestrians at risk – because you are so focused on the cars and making a safe turn you are just not looking for pedestrians. I think most left turns should be eliminated (or left turn signals put in, or pedestrian scrambles, or lights turned off in favor of stop signs) purely on safety grounds, but if doing that wouldn’t even cost drivers any time or money the argument gets even stronger.

ride pooling can (maybe) reduce traffic by a lot

Here’s a new study from MIT that says ride sharing and pooling algorithms could theoretically reduce Manhattan rush hour traffic drastically.

On-demand high-capacity ride-sharing via dynamic trip-vehicle assignment

Ride-sharing services are transforming urban mobility by providing timely and convenient transportation to anybody, anywhere, and anytime. These services present enormous potential for positive societal impacts with respect to pollution, energy consumption, congestion, etc. Current mathematical models, however, do not fully address the potential of ride-sharing. Recently, a large-scale study highlighted some of the benefits of car pooling but was limited to static routes with two riders per vehicle (optimally) or three (with heuristics). We present a more general mathematical model for real-time high-capacity ride-sharing that (i) scales to large numbers of passengers and trips and (ii) dynamically generates optimal routes with respect to online demand and vehicle locations. The algorithm starts from a greedy assignment and improves it through a constrained optimization, quickly returning solutions of good quality and converging to the optimal assignment over time. We quantify experimentally the tradeoff between fleet size, capacity, waiting time, travel delay, and operational costs for low- to medium-capacity vehicles, such as taxis and van shuttles. The algorithm is validated with ∼3 million rides extracted from the New York City taxicab public dataset. Our experimental study considers ride-sharing with rider capacity of up to 10 simultaneous passengers per vehicle. The algorithm applies to fleets of autonomous vehicles and also incorporates rebalancing of idling vehicles to areas of high demand. This framework is general and can be used for many real-time multivehicle, multitask assignment problems.

There are plenty of criticisms of this type of study. The major one is that if you make a particular transportation option faster and/or cheaper, economics dictates that people will automatically switch to it from other options over time, eventually making it less fast and/or less cheap until the various modes are balanced again. The study above (based on my quick skim of the abstract) probably took data from one or a few Manhattan rush hours and asked how it could be rerouted in the most efficient possible way. I don’t fault them for doing the study, which is really interesting. The economics and human behavioral feedback loops that happen over longer periods of time just need to be studied too before policy decisions are made based on results like these.

I don’t necessarily want UberPool to be the answer to all our infrastructure problems. I love the idea of subway and above-ground rail and bus rapid transit as much as the next person. But as the opening of the most recent segment of New York subway recently showed us, these projects are taking decades to build in the U.S. and costing enormous amounts of money. Europe and Asia are doing much better than us, so maybe we could learn some lessons from them, but our recent political challenges shed some doubt on the idea that we can improve any time soon. (Europe generally manages to do somewhat better with high-wage union labor, while some Asian countries build extremely cost-effectively by issuing temporary work visas to low-wage labor from developing countries. There are political and moral issues on both ends of this spectrum, obviously, but the point is the U.S. doesn’t do either approach well. Much like our health care system, we spend 2 or 3 or 5 times more than everyone else and get worse results.)

If the criticism of the study I mentioned above is that demand projections made before the new infrastructure options or technologies are in place are not going to be accurate, that criticism certainly applies to a subway system that takes decades to build. The entire population, land use, and employment pattern of the area served could change in that time, not to mention that whatever technology is chosen is almost guaranteed to be obsolete the day operation begins. With the ride-sharing algorithms, even if the projections are wrong at first at least you have a system that should be easy to adapt and tweak over time. I don’t see why public bus systems and bus rapid transit can’t be integrated into a system like this. And if people want a vehicle to themselves for some trips sometimes, the algorithms and pricing schemes should be able to accommodate that. You could even imagine an algorithm managing passenger vehicles, freight and delivery vehicles in urban areas so they are less in conflict with other at various times of day and night. The algorithms could be run by government or non-profit entities if we are really afraid of private control, or private algorithms and entities could be forced to communicate and coordinate with one another.