More Ideas: Transportation

Everybody gets so much information all day long
that they lose their common sense.
~ Gertrude Stein

Some discussions, ideas and scientific discoveries from around the internet with implications for transportation…

Every (Ash) Cloud has a Silver Lining

Eyjafjallajökull’s eruption could transform the economics and politics of Europe: Already, the events of the last several days have revealed that we rely on air travel for far more things than we usually imagine. Things like supermarkets—all that fresh fruit—and florists. Things like symphony performances, professional soccer matches, and international relations. In fact, “European integration,” as we have come to understand it, turns out to be utterly dependent on reliable air travel. (via Slate.)

Andrew Simms – 79 months and counting …: Eyjafjallajökull provided a glimpse of a possible future in which the aviation industry’s wings have been clipped [….]

Within hours, airports all over Europe were closing as if giant master switch for the aviation industry had been flicked to off. Why? Fine dust from the vast billowing cloud thrown up by the volcano was lethal to modern jet engines. Planes that had flown through similar clouds in the past had suffered terrifying, nearly disastrous losses of power. For days Europe was grounded. ‘Five miles up the hush and shush of ash/ Yet the sky is as clean as a white slate,’ wrote the poet Carol Ann Duffy.

One of the main arteries of the modern world – cheap, ubiquitous air travel – was suddenly cut. What happened next was revelatory, and possibly a glimpse of a future world in which both climate change and strictly limited oil supplies have clipped the industry’s wings…. (via Comment is free |

People came up with a variety of methods of coping with the transportation chaos created by the grounding of so much plane travel following the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Monty Python’s John Cleese took what some people were calling the most expensive cab ride in history.

But this is neither an option available to most people, nor a sustainable practice. And we certainly couldn’t transport all those cut flowers from Africa to the tables of Europe in taxis. As a better alternative, let me suggest…

Bring back blimps!: The New York Times asked me and three other people the following question: ‘The Icelandic volcano that disrupted global air travel last week raised a concern: should we be thinking of alternative ways to move masses of people and goods?’ My answer: bring back blimps (and dirigibles).

Their large surface area and inherent buoyancy mean they can be run with solar-powered motors, making them eco-friendly. They can take off and land without a runway, which means they can load and unload passengers almost anywhere (no more airports!). (via Boing Boing.)

Funnily enough, I’ve read a number of science fiction novels recently in which blimps are used as a regular form of transportation – including Red Mars, Antarctica, Dark Light, and The Windup Girl. In the latter, they and technologically sophisticated sailing ships are the primary means of long-distance travel in a world devastated by “both climate change and strictly limited oil supplies.”

For a bit more on blimps and airships, check out Airship-Research-Lab, London Zeppelin 2010, and check out this visionary imagining of a designer derigible, the Manned Cloud:

The whale-shaped airship, developed with French national aerospace research body ONERA, will be able to accommodate 40 guests and have a range of 5,000 km. (via Dezeen » Blog Archive » Manned Cloud by Jean-Marie Massaud.)

The USAF is also looking into blimps, though as unmanned surveillance platforms:

Military Develops Hydrogen-Powered Spy Blimp: The Air Force has announced that it will do its part for economic stimulus by spending $400 million on a dirigible designed to float 65,000 feet above the Earth, where it will provide constant surveillance of an area (such as the Afghanistan-Pakistan border). ISIS (Integrated Sensor Is the Structure) is being billed as a cross between a satellite and a spy plane, kept aloft by helium and powered by hydrogen fuel cells that are recharged with solar panels. (via

Green warfare. Not really what I was looking for.

Also in the news recently have been some developments in solar power generation that might be worth considering in conjunction with blimps: fabric solar “panels” and solar “cells” that can be painted on almost any surface. It’s easy to see the implications: blimps whose whole upper body consists of solar panels which power them silently and efficiently through the clear skies.

Tent-Like Solar Fabric Could Charge Cars, Help with Disaster Relief: Imagine being able to pitch solar tents in situations where you need both some protective cover and access to clean energy — perhaps as a car port for a  plug-in EV or a disaster relief shelter.  A new tensile solar fabric from FTL Solar could be used in variety of ways and, as a bonus, it isn’t an eyesore either.

A great example of highly functional design, the PowerMods as they’re called bring together super-strong fabric and thin-film PV.  The possible uses for this solar fabric are almost endless:  battery charging stations, medical units, military bases, temporary housing, energy pods for remote villages, solar arrays in city parks, etc. (via

A New Twist on Car Sharing

San Franciscans have long been fans of car sharing – early adopters of both City CarShare and zipcar, not to mention hitchhiking (and riding the rails). But here’s a new and interesting twist:

Site turns car owners into loaners: Car owners can turn their motors from being a drain on their finances to a money-making prospect following the launch of a website which allows them to rent out their vehicle when they are not using it.

WhipCar, which opened for business this week, allows motorists to register their car to rent for anything from a few hours to weeks at a time to people in their neighbourhood.

It is free to register and renting out your car has no impact on your own insurance, according to the website’s founder Vinay Gupta. (via

A local entrepreneur is already trying to bring this idea to California, though it will require some legal changes to work:

In San Francisco, Car Sharing Means Really Sharing: Car sharing is changing. Sunil Paul, the clean-tech entrepreneur behind a new San Francisco service called Spride Share, looked at the numbers and decided that 10,000 shared cars in the United States was not likely to change the world (even if, as some sharing companies have said, each in-service vehicle takes 15 others off the road).
The answer, Mr. Paul says, is personal car sharing, in which car owners can get modest payments of $5 to $8 an hour to allow their often-idle car or truck to be shared, either by friends and neighbors or the larger car-sharing community. But before that dream can become reality, state law has to be changed. (via Wheels Blog –

Sugar-rubber tyre inches closer to the road

And you can roll your ride – shared or otherwise – on a new kind of rubber, made with less environmental impact. Bacteria and fungi have been genetically modified to feed on plant material and excrete an important component of tyre rubber. Read more

Bike Storage

Of course, better even than car-sharing our sparky new electric rides is to get about on pedal power. But as you may have already found, in some cities finding a proper place to park your fixie can be as challenging as getting a parking space for a car. Illegal parking of bicycles  has become a major problem in Japanese cities, but the Japanese – creators of much cool tech – have come up with one possible answer, though a fairly high tech and energy dependent one: The bike tree – the 21st-century cycle shed. Bikes are parked in a slot in front of a large structure – the cycle shed. A mechanical device grabs them, pulls them into the interior and racks them up. Watch the video on for a clearer picture.

Contrast this approach with the low tech approach common in China…

Still, even that has something over this…


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