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Our World in the Year 2020

Getting Around

The Road Ahead

getting around

— Viktor Koen

NEW FOR 2021! THE CHEVY HOVER-ETTE! A futurology staple since George Jetson commuted to work in one, the flying car is finally in the showroom. Sticker price: $1 million ( including your parachute). For terrestrial transport, the nation's highways are increasingly dominated by electric vehicles. And we don't really "drive" them, since collision-avoidance systems are standard equipment.

Transit proponents yearn for big changes in how Americans get around, from a national high-speed rail network to urban people-movers that use small electric "podcars." But chances are that 2020, for better or worse, will still be all about cars. "We're a highly individualized country," says Tom Frey of the DaVinci Institute, a think tank in Louisville, Colorado. "We're too spread out to emphasize mass transit." Look for semi- or fully autonomous vehicles with cameras, radar, and computers that can take the wheel. Much of the technology already exists — see the adaptive cruise control and parking-assist features in high-end autos today — and General Motors aims to have a self-driving car on the road by 2018. Frey predicts that such vehicles could be available on demand, like cabs without cabbies: "You'll get in a car, punch into a computer where you want to go, and sit back while the car drives you there."

The rise of the robo-cabs could rewrite the rules of the road. The traffic jam could become a thing of the past. So could the traffic-related fatality. "At some point it will become illegal for people to drive their own cars," envisions Lifeboat Foundation futurist Eric Klien. "It will be too dangerous."

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