Here is how I imagine you reading this story: Sitting on the bus, maybe on your way to work or to see a friend, tapping back-and-forth between Facebook and Instagram on your phone before landing on this page for a minute. This is how I often do my reading.
What occurs to me is how much that experience, which a lot of us share almost daily, has to do with modes of transportation, old and new. The bus is an obvious one—public transit, bike lanes, sidewalks, and roads shape our lives and movements through cities and towns—but less obvious, maybe, is the phone in your hand. If it’s an iPhone, like mine, it’s a testament to global shipping: designed in California, made in China, with bits that may come from South America or Inner Mongolia. Even the way you and I are connecting now, here online, has to do with transportation. As roads, rails, and canals shaped our countries in the last century, online technologies and infrastructures bind us over long distances in the 21st.
Transportation and mobility technologies are creating the future we’ll inhabit in years and decades to come. With that in mind, Motherboard is launching Moveable, a new project dedicated to the future of mobility—a future both wonderful and terrifying.
New transportation technologies are emerging to help us tackle some of the biggest challenges we have in front of us
That future will look familiar, with improvements to the infrastructure and modes of transportation we use today. In other ways, it will be very different. A few crucial distinctions have begun to appear. For one, whereas governments were mainly behind big infrastructure projects of the past, today we’re seeing private companies increasingly take on that role.
Here in Toronto, I’m watching a Google affiliate prepare to take over and shape an entire waterfront community, replete with sensors, self-driving shuttles, and robotic delivery people. Elsewhere, Uber, Amazon, and a few others are increasingly filling the role of public transit or the postal service. It’s exciting, but it also gives plenty of us reason to pause. As we move towards this future, what will it mean to have these companies at the helm? And how will it reshape our lives if, say, the self-driving cars of the future are largely owned by corporations, putting an end to private car ownership and the “car culture” that largely defined the 20th century?
At the same time, individuals are doing important work to shape our future: Take the community of DIY mechanics retrofitting old cars with electric motors. New transportation technologies are emerging to help us tackle some of the biggest challenges we have in front of us, like climate change (but it’s still way too hard to buy an electric car). Important conversations are beginning to happen about how to make these technologies accessible to all people, something we largely failed to do in the past. Self-driving cars, with all their problems, promise to reduce traffic jams and make us safer. (Vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death, especially among young people.)
Lastly, let’s not forget the more exciting, and maybe far-out, stuff we could do—visiting the Great Wall of China inside a remotely controlled robot body, or flying to a far-flung solar system. Those are stories about human movement and technologies of mobility, too.
All these conversations now have a home on Moveable. If you have thoughts on the future of mobility, please feel free to reach out:
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