The “futurology” movement of the 1960s, which promised progress and prosperity, based almost entirely on technology, has long ebbed away. Science fiction literature and movies range from the realistic to the ridiculous.
Some authors, though, made predictions that came true. In a 1945 article of Wireless World magazine, Arthur C. Clarke proposed a ring of satellites around the earth to allow communications anywhere, at any time. Not only do we have them in service, we also have phones that connect directly with them and fit in a shirt pocket.
It’s not hard to glimpse into the future. Just look at what the current trends are. After the internet revolution and smartphones, the next striking change is likely to be in transportation technology.
The writing appearing on the wall is that the combustion engine has run its course and will become obsolete in the next two or three decades. Cars of the future are going to be electric. The only reason why they aren’t appearing in huge numbers right now is battery technology, limiting the range to about 100 miles per charge. That will change.
When truly powerful batteries are available, traditional gas pumps are going to be replaced by quick-charging bays. Oil companies will have to struggle for market share, because electricity can be produced from so many more sources than gasoline. Wind, the sun, atomic fission, firewood, even trash have the potential to generate electric power.
Many “filling stations,” whether in the Arizona desert or in the Georgia mountains, will produce their own electricity from solar panels and windmills, offering a rapid battery charge and snacks in a traditional convenience store (which is likely to remain). Air pollution from vehicle exhaust will gradually disappear because electric motors produce none.
Under the hood, there won’t be a need for carburetors, fuel injectors, fan belts, pistons, radiators, head gaskets, alternators, exhaust pipes and so many other things needing service. Just batteries and an electric motor. Loud mufflers are going to disappear, too, because the only sound from electric vehicles is produced by the tires.
Enormous amounts of fossil fuel are currently going to waste during idling at stop signs and red lights. An electric car, on the other hand, uses no power while standing still. Many will mourn the gradual disappearance of their classic Ford Mustang or pushrod Harley-Davidson. But what’s coming is clean, exciting, powerful and electric.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.