The future of driving: Here comes ‘Big Brother’

Futurists have found a way for toll roads users, who aren’t already registered with toll agencies, to pay tolls using their mobile devices.

By Terri Hall l February 22, 2013

From Google’s self-driving car to harnessing electromagnetic induction to power buses and cars with clean energy, the eighth annual Texas Transportation Forum held in Austin left industry gurus breathless with new possibilities for transportation as smart technology merges with mobility.

Scott Belcher, President and CEO of Intelligent Transportation Society of America, moderated a panel of cutting-edge companies whose innovative technology isn’t just an idea, but is actually deployed on the ground and transforming the way we drive in the 21st century.

Wireless Advance Vehicle Electrification Technologies (or WAVE) CEO Wesley Smith shared how his company has solved the ‘battery problem’ with electric vehicles. WAVE technology utilizes magnetic induction fields to transfer energy wirelessly, without the need to stop frequently in order to recharge batteries throughout the day. It’s best initial application is for buses. A video simulation on the company’s web site shows how the technology works by installing a 25 kilowatt wireless inductive charger under the bus that receives an electric charge from another charger placed into the ground/road along the bus routes. Buses recharge overnight and automatically throughout the day at bus stops without any abnormal delay.

“This is the first time electric power has been economically viable,” notes Director of the University of Utah Commuter Services, Alma Allred.

“Once you solve the battery problem, electric vehicles are far superior to their diesel and natural gas counterparts,” Smith contends.

Brian Heath, CEO of Drivewyze, has found a way for toll roads users, who aren’t already registered with toll agencies, to pay tolls using their mobile devices. It doesn’t add any new infrastructure, like electronic toll transponders with hardware, wiring, and expensive cameras to capture drivers license plates and send them a bill, and costs government agencies nothing. The users pay a monthly fee for the service through a mobile application on their smartphone. Drivewyze uses geofencing to deploy integrated roadside technology.

But it was Google Product Manager Anthony Levandowski, who ultimately stole the show by displaying the Google driverless car in the hotel lobby for attendees to explore. He acknowledges this is not a new idea, but the technology is finally here that makes an autonomous car a reality.

The primary advantage of a self-driving vehicle is safety. It cuts down on distracted driving and dramatically reduces accident rates by up to five times. Another benefit is their ability to maximize road capacity without the need to add or build new lanes, since the cars can drive very close together without the risk of collision like there is with traditional driving.

Dr. Mike Walton, Professor and Chair of Engineering at University of Texas at Austin, acknowledged the biggest hurdle to these technologies isn’t viability or technical hurdles, but rather public acceptance and adoption of the technology. He pointed out that there is already a mind-controlled wheelchair, brain-to-brain communication over the internet, and a device that can determine what you’re thinking with up to ninety-percent accuracy, but public acceptance of such technology may be far behind the actual advances in technology.

Futurist predictions of travel

Attendees were also treated to a Jetson’s-style peek into the future of driving and travel. Glen Hiemstra, Founder and Owner of, formerly with the Federal Highway Administration, explained how shifts in demographics, technology acceleration, and social impacts have fundamentally changed attitudes about driving.

In Georgia. twenty-five percent of those over 65 have already stopped driving. When asked how they’ll get around, they think their kids will help them. But with families more spread out, he noted how that wasn’t a realistic expectation, and it poses a challenge for how communities will get our aging population where they need to go.

Among youth, Heimstra noted how kids born between 1980 and 2000 would rather have a Smartphone than a car if given a choice between the two, and they had to choose only one. The auto market among youth is disappearing, which he predicts will prompt demand for communities designed with less need for driving. Since 2004, we’ve been driving fewer miles annually. Though Heimstra said that was due to the economic downturn, it was due to the gas price spike which has not come down appreciably ever since.

Perhaps Heimstra’s most mind-boggling futuristic look at travel is the idea of ‘solar’ or ‘electric’ roads. Some entrepreneurs are already exploring how to overlay roads with solar panels to generate energy. It could double the power generation of the world. Roads already store heat, which prompted them to seek a way to capture that energy in a way that can be useful. It would require building roads out of glass, of course, accounting for weight of trucks and vehicles, glare, and other challenges.

Now that’s a future that looks bright. The only thing holding back technology is “policy and people,” according to Heath. So maybe the Jetson’s flying cars won’t be far behind after all.

Terri Hall is the founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), which defends against eminent domain abuse and promotes non-toll transportation solutions. She’s a home school mother of eight turned citizen activist. Ms. Hall is also a contributor to

SFPPR News & Analysis.