Cars… what a wonderful invention!
cars were invented, well… trains were invented back in the 1700 – 1800’s and they were early means of transport for cargo and people. first trains used coal/wood as energy source and water/steam to transform heat into movement. trains were very heavy and suited long distance rides with heavy cargo rather than short rides. the first automobiles were in fact a miniaturization of the train into a smaller scale suited for transporting small weight and cargo around the city. The result of that was a wagon with an engine and a steering and breaking mechanisms, integrated on a chassis with seats on it to allow people to travel on. around 1884 the first electric car was built but at the time, it was not very successful because of the low range mainly. on the other hand, the internal combustion engine appeared and took over the car industry as it used fuel, which could be packed into a relatively small container and provide energy for much bigger distance than the electric battery. This engine can provide high power, it is relatively reliable and was more efficient at the time for short and longer rides. added the fuel provisioning infrastructure and the car could go cross country with no issues. The other options were left apart and the car took shape into what we know today as the modern car. Today’s cars technology is exactly the same technology as the cars built in 1900. They are stronger, faster, more reliable today, safer etc’ but all that is pretty much cosmetics in technology terms as the core technology is that of 1900. Every generation of cars improved things, new generation of transmissions, more electronics, more fun but in essence the car is a 1-2 tons of metal which burns fuel to move.
People got used to the concept of cars, they love it, they worship it, it is the most convenient way to get anywhere on a daily basis (in most places) and everyone desire one. People got used to the price they pay for having cars around, the pollution, the congestion, the noise, all is worth it.
Why are cars – a “technology gone wrong”?
Few reasons. Internal combustion engines with today’s transmission of power into movement are very inefficient, they are so inefficient that they allow to use only 10% of the heat produced in the fuel burning process as actual power to accelerate the car and keep it going. Then, there is the car weight as the result of the technology of concepts it is built on. A person weighting 140 pound/80kg is driven around in a box weighting 3300pounds/1500kg. every time we stop on a red light and start driving again, an engine that is 10% efficient and 90% pollutant needs to accelerate a 1-2 tons box from 0 to 40-50, just to drive one person around.
Taking the minimum resources required to drive a person around on an electric bike for example, the vehicle itself weights 40 pounds and is using a 250 watts electric engine. this is roughly 100 times more efficient than driving a car. this is what it should really take to get us from point A to point B.
Personal transportation technology was led the wrong way all along creating a huge problem for generations to come. If personal transportation technology evolution was based on common sense and joint planning and vision, rather than integrating random inventions with a bunch of interests, it could have been completely different, it could have been the right one.
Why did this happen?
This is a classic example of the perfect storm of INTERESTS and wrong assumptions plus a natural tendency to build things in layers. When it started, I believe cars ware an exotic thing to have, only very rich people or specific industries will be able to have or use cars. Then came mass production of cars and made them them available to much broader population with the exact same technology that is not built with mass usage in mind. For Governments, scientists, engineers manufacturers, energy companies, even the economy, all suddenly received a huge boost from this evolution, therefore, they kept feeding it until it became the monster it is today. A vicious circle feeding itself which is now impossible to stop or shift to the right direction.
What would stop it?
A distracting technology? highly unlikely as technology is not really the issue anymore. it became much more than that. Cars as they are built and operate today , as a concept, is an embedded concept in human minds, cars are deeply integrated in our culture.