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Shaping personal transportation of the future: Google leads the way!
The megacities of the world have one aspect which is common: that is the overwhelming prevalence of automobiles and traffic jams. It has reached a point that cars now seem to be the problem and not the solution!

Commuting times are becoming annoyingly longer and quality free time for family and leisure are woefully short. Good public transports like buses, suburban trains and metros can help reduce the strain on the system, but the increasingly uncontrolled use of cars leads to a total grid lock.

With arrival of taxi-aggregating firms like Uber and Ola, I notice a new trend in Mumbai. Even though they have a car or two in the garage, my friends now hail an Ola or Uber cab, which arrives in a few minutes. Returning the same way, they are more relaxed and spared the strain of driving in our chaotic traffic. Some have also done away with their drivers. Some friends have opted for car sharing or taxi sharing.

A recent study of 15 megacities including four from India indicates, that by 2025 none of these conventional modes of transports will address the issue. There is growing need   for introduction of a new computer-controlled transportation from door-to-door. While still on the drawing boards, such networks could reduce reliance on personal vehicles. The magnitude of such an enterprise remains to be seen. Door-to-door citywide networks appear to be a pipe dream. But as usual, the omnipresent Google is ahead of the pack, in visualizing the transportation of the future!

At a trade exposition, Google announced: "In the 1980s we changed computing. In 2001, we revolutionised music with the iPod and then iTunes. In 2007, we built the iPhone and changed the way we live. In 2015, we made the Watch, which changed time. Now we are taking the next leap. Today we want to show you the future of transport". It came out with a prototype of a driverless car. Other manufacturers followed. Driverless cars, buses and taxis are already being tested on certain stretches, in Singapore, London and other cities.

But Google is not satisfied with just a driverless car or bus. It has announced, that it is working on 'autonomous' personal vehicles. They would be guided by a combination of cameras, laser and radar sensors with routes determined, using the company's own map database. This would be like letting the satellite-navigation of the car take over the driving, with the ability to avoid cars, pedestrians and other obstacles.

Both London and Paris have smart bikes parked at strategic places in the city. Anyone can swipe the card and cycle on! Similarly, the cycle can be left at any of these strategic parking places. No human interaction is involved. Similarly, the smart driverless cars of the future could be parked at convenient places in the city.

After Google's lead many companies like Tesla, Airbus and others are also in the fray. Taking cues from drones, Airbus is coming out with 'human flying pods' to fly over the traffic below! Dubai is shortly going to test such personal drones or those capable of carrying more people. It wants to use these personal drones to be hailed like Ola or Uber taxis (please see inset).

If one studies the designs or the photos of the various prototypes, they appear to be science fiction. But today's fiction is tomorrow's reality!

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