Tag Archives: Intelligent Agent

Can Driverless Cars cut journey times?

A Self Driving City Car
A Self Driving City Car

My last post looked at how driverless cars will benefit the disabled. This post looks their wider benefits.

Driverless cars will be ideally suited to small cities and towns. They will permit a fast low energy transport system without the heavy investment required to build a  subway, a tram system, or new roads.

Most cars will be owned by the local community and will be picked up from parking areas when needed. Electronic personal assistants will show users where the nearest available car is parked. The battery powered cars will be recharged when they are parked via inductive loops in the road. There will be no need for wires to be connected. If a car does not have adequate charge for the requested journey the user will be directed to another. The frequent charging points will mean that a large battery is not required, reducing weight and the resources involved in battery manufacture.

The cars will be activated by voice, keypad, or card. Electronic personal assistants will also be able to direct the cars. Customers will be automatically charged for each journey.

Privately owned cars will also have a self-drive capability by 2050, which will be used when they are in towns.

The cars will travel relatively slowly in town, but nevertheless journey times will be shorter than existing cars because they will talk to a central computer and, for example, select their route and schedule their arrival at junctions so that they do not need to stop. A further speed benefit is that there will be no need to waste time seeking a parking spot.

Once they are underway they will be able to group together to form trains, so that they take less road space in towns and have lower wind resistance, just like road racing cycles. They will be able to do this because they will communicate, telling each other of hazards ahead. Each car will be continually monitored and will be taken out of service at the first warning of any fault.

Accidents will be rare. The sensors on these cars will never tire or be distracted. They will detect cyclists and pedestrians and take action to avoid them if required. The cars will always drive at a safe speed. They will talk to each other to avoid misunderstandings.

Cars will be lightweight with no need for seat belts, airbags, or crumple zones because accidents will be so rare. Engines will be relatively small because the cars rarely need to accelerate and because the lightweight cars will not need much power to climb hills. There will be no need for a steering wheel, dashboard, windscreen wipers and mirrors.

Inside the car arrangements will vary depending on design. I think it would be good if the seats face each other, as shown. Each seat could then be folded up allowing the car to transport wheelchair users, baby buggies, or large items. Parents will be better able to supervise their children if they sit facing them.

Parking in town centres will be much easier because each car will be shorter, and because cars will not be left parked while their owners work or shop. They will be taken by another user, or driven empty out of the town centre to wait and recharge elsewhere.

If new road space is required it can be found by making lanes narrower because these cars will drive very accurately. If necessary additional small flyovers or tunnels could be built  for these cars only. Using these techniques it will be possible to provide faster journey times while increasing the volume of people carried.

The system will permit a higher standard of life for the blind, for people with other disabilities, for the elderly, for those who cannot afford a car, and for those too young to be able to drive. It will also eliminate noise and pollution from town centres, producing health benefits.

They will use less energy than existing cars because they will be lighter, will need to accelerate far less frequently, and will use electrical power rather than a fossil fuelled engine.

Much larger energy savings will come indirectly. Far fewer cars will be needed, cutting down resources used for their manufacture. The system will link well with trains, making public transport much more convenient and increasing its use.

Why can’t this be done now? The basic self driving technology is under development by Google and others.  Advanced batteries already exist that could give these cars an adequate range for use in cities. The ULTRA system, in service in the UK, shows some of these attributes though it operates on a dedicated track.

There are some serious barriers to overcome before the widespread use depicted here is possible. For example cars that lack accident defences cannot easily be used alongside cars or lorries that are under conventional human control. Initial application may need to be in already pedestrianized areas, in dedicated lanes on existing roads, or on new flyovers. Alternatively these vehicles could retain some accident defences initially. Wider use may need to wait until self-driving capability is commonplace, perhaps around 2030.

Insurance is also a key issue – deciding who is at fault if there is an accident. This question is being discussed in the USA at present. Ultimately however these cars should be easier to insure than a human driver because accidents will be rarer.






Can Driverless Cars help people with disabilities?

How driverless cars can bring a fairer society
How driverless cars can bring a fairer society

Bill is 98. Lots of people are as old as that old in 2050. He is independent, but walks slowly and his eyesight isn’t great. He lives in a city, as most people do in 2050. He fancies a coffee and sets off. When he gets to the nearest road he simply steps off the pavement.

A camera has been set up near his home to watch for this type of incident, which is common because there are many old people and children in the area. It broadcasts a warning. Two cars are approaching, under automatic control. They hear the warning, and slow down slightly so that Bill can get across in front of them.

The first car contains four people who are heading out for a game of wheelchair tennis. The second contains a blind person and her child. She simply got into the car and told it where she wanted to go.

In 2050 the old, the disabled and those unable to drive will have much more satisfying lives. The driverless car will allow them to live normally, no longer imprisoned in their homes or dependent on others to take them where they want to go.

Why can’t this be done now? Well, of course this technology is being developed by Google and others. It is important to allow development to proceed rapidly because these cars will bring a wide range of benefits.

Can we find a better Work-Life Balance?

Asha sorts things out.
Asha sorts things out.

Asha works for a software company. It is a fast moving business where competition is fierce. She is a project manager, a demanding job. She has two children, one aged 4, the other 7.

Her company produces personal software that measures food intake by continuously analysing images taken by the wearer’s spectacles. It isn’t too hard to measure piles of potatoes and meat, or to understand the contents of processed food since that is available from the producers. However one of the weak areas of all food intake software is added salt. People shake salt pots onto their food, and it is very hard to know exactly how much has been added. Likewise cooks casually toss salt into home cooked food.

They have been working with a University in Nairobi to solve this problem. The software analyses images in very fast time to assess the number and size of the grains of salt.  They are having problems. She needs the software to be in use by October 2050 to combat other organisations that are beginning to take their customers.

Asha gathers her team around a conference board. The Professor and Researcher in Nairobi explain how work is going. Her own team look for answers. The conference board listens and displays relevant information and its own ideas and questions. It searches the internet for relevant research and announcements. People move ideas around in 3 dimensions on the board. Costs and timescales of various options are generated and compared. Asha can look her team members in the eye to assess their level of assurance and commitment. Eventually they agree a way ahead.

At 3.15  Asha and her entire team go home, because an adult education group has booked the office. Their working day follows a pattern which is quite common in 2050.  They start the day by working at home. They go to the office from 9.15 until 3.15. They work again from home at some point during most evenings. It is a working day that leaves time for the family. The early morning and late evening sessions allow conversations with those in other time-zones. They also allow time for continuing professional development which is key to business success in 2050.

Asha lives in one of the new linear cities. Her commute to work is only 10 minutes by bike. The children go to a nearby school so it is easy to collect them. Her partner works similar hours in another company. If they worked in an 8 ’til 6 company they would be disadvantaged because they would be considered to be part-time. Organisations in 2050 offer varied working patterns to attract the best staff. Her company attracts people in their thirties and forties with growing families, a rich pool of talent.

Why can’t this happen now? To an extent, it is. However change will occur much more rapidly in future, driven by the fact that the world will become more complex and talent like Asha’s will be able to dictate employment terms.

p.s. I’m sorry about the picture, it is harder than I thought to sketch people!


Can we make Bus travel more energy efficient?

Buses 2050
Buses 2050


Jim has a beer in the centre of his town. The beer is local, brewed the same way for 200 years. The buses also look fairly conventional, but the truth is that they are 5 times more efficient than buses in the old days – for example in 2014.

Some of that improvement comes from their engineering. Most of it however comes from how they are operated. In 2014 buses simply drove around to a schedule and people waited at bus stops. Sometimes the bus was full, and people got annoyed. Mostly the buses operated nearly empty. In 2050 all that has changed.

Jim will need a bus home. He reckons it will take him 15 minutes to finish his beer and mentions it to Pat, his electronic assistant. Pat comes back in 30 seconds and tells him the bus will arrive in 19 minutes and he has seat 25. The bus comes as predicted.

The main reason that the bus is so energy efficient is that it is nearly full. In 2014 buses in the UK operated with only 9 passengers on average. Most countries operated with similarly inefficient bus systems. Buses were more efficient than cars in terms of emissions per passenger kilometre, but the difference was not huge. In 2050 buses carry 30 passengers on average. The bulk of the efficiency improvement comes from that fact alone.

How is it done? Everyone signals the journeys that they want to make. Buses are sent when there is demand. Sometimes two or three buses must be used. They link together where routes intersect, and people transfer as in the picture above.

The bus company computer controls the buses. The roads are much less congested because far fewer journeys are made by car, so bus arrival times are predictable. There is much heavier demand for buses so they can operate frequently.

What if Jim needs to leave urgently and there is insufficient demand for a bus right now? Pat will scan the options and come up with the best. Jim may have to pay more, and incur greater environmental damage perhaps by using an electric taxi for part of the journey. If so he will pay extra Q tax. But that an unlikely event. Public transport can normally get Jim everywhere he needs to go, at the time he needs to travel.

Shouldn’t the buses be streamlined? These are slow buses for use in town only. I’ll show long distance buses soon.

p.s I apologise for not posting for a few weeks, I had some projects to complete. Note also that even in 2014 it makes environmental sense to use a bus. It will run whether you use it or not, and if you use it the extra fuel burned will be negligible. In contrast if you take the car, however efficient it is, significant extra fuel will certainly be used.






Can technology cut food waste?

Jim is a man of the 2050’s. A busy man, keen to stay fit. His electronic assistant Pat is a tiny computer that Jim carries with him. Jim’s words are black, Pat’s are blue.

Preparing for the day with Pat's help
Preparing for the day with Pat’s help

Jim can spend his entire day focussed on work – which will be the subject of a separate post. Pat only interrupts when Jim has spare time at breakfast or when walking. Pat talks to Jim normally, via an earpiece. Jim talks to Pat normally if alone, or via his wrist watch if in company, which has a touch screen for simple answers. So – what about after work?

Pat helps him make a great dinner

The ingredients come precisely packaged in the correct amounts and to the highest quality and freshness. The delivery methods will be the subject of a later post. Pat does not duplicate anything that Jim already has. Amounts are calculated to meet personal needs. There is no waste in the ordering process.

During the cooking of the meal Pat helps Jim by scheduling everything. Jim can focus on the cooking. Complex food is expected in 2050, with several small courses. Pat looks out for problems, and reminds Jim when things need doing so that everything will be ready for his guests. There is no food spoiled during cooking.

The close of day report from Pat covers input of all major nutrients. It compares those with recommended inputs for Jim’s age and weight, for his exercise level, and for his sporting aims. It draws his attention to any unusual readings, for example if recovery time after exercise is too long.

I chose Jim for this first example because, as a single man, his out of work life is relatively simple. A later example will deal with how e-assistants can help women and families, where they will cope with greater complexity and provide much greater benefits.

The key things that make Pat effective are:

Pat handles all purchases, so he knows what food comes into Jim’s house. He knows the content of processed foods because he gets that from the seller. He pays for all restaurant meals and snacks and drinks.

Pat can see, because there are cameras built into Jim’s glasses. However he can do more than see – he can understand what is going on. Pat recognises plates by their shape, he can read the labels on packets, he understands the colour and texture of different foods. Pat’s vision is stereoscopic so he can also estimate the shape and size of a pile of food on Jim’s plate, and by looking again at the end of a meal he can estimate how much Jim has eaten. The information stored at breakfast includes a list of everything that Jim has eaten. It also includes the amount of food left in cupboards and fridges, so Pat knows when to re-order. If Pat isn’t clear on some point, he will ask.  For example he might not see how much cereal is left.

While Pat acquires images, he does not store them. He extracts the basic information he needs, then discards them. This is considered polite.

Pat can hear and analyse speech in any language, but again it is polite to only store certain types of information such as dates, times, and promises. E-assistants communicate their recording status and ensure they are ‘polite’. Pat will tell Jim if his friends are recording what goes on over dinner.

Pat knows how much exercise Jim takes by looking at movements and Jim’s speed.

Pat can sense various body functions such as breathing, pulse, and brain activity. He knows when Jim is happy.

Jim has agreed that he can share personal data with the e-assistants of his friends, including Kat and Al. So Pat can say exactly what food will suit everyone’s tastes.

Pat scours the internet for local bargains or well regarded local businesses. In 2050 the amount of such marketing information is beyond the capacity of humans to adsorb. Pat handles all order placement and payments, with no involvement from Jim except to approve the more important things that Pat proposes to buy.

And how does all that stop food waste? Because Jim buys no more than he will eat, and only eats what his body needs. The load he places on planetary resources is far less than an average 2013 western man. See the related articles below for different views of how much we waste by eating too much red meat. See also the background page link at the end of this post.

Why can’t we do this now? Firstly because the technology is too bulky, and image analysis is too slow and unreliable. Those things will change and this technology will slowly become more convenient and reliable.

Secondly it takes time to build the required conventions. Restaurants and food sellers will need to provide information in an agreed format. That will take time. Likewise it will take time to develop a ‘polite’ mode so that cameras can be worn to dinner.

For more information and the logic behind this see the Food Waste background page.