Smart Highway Electrification: nuclear power for ground transportation
by Matthew Formby
To make use of nuclear-generated electrical energy for transportation, Interstate Highways would have charging lanes added to take advantage of the high efficiency of electric cars without the need for expensive and (so far) nonexistent adequate battery technology. Smart Highway Electrification would use digital control and differential steering (applying slightly different voltages to the motors turning the car's right and left wheels) to keep the car in contact with the charging strip, and to electrify only the section where the car actually is at the time. This would eliminate the need for channel-type conduit connections, greatly reducing the cost of construction, and allowing cars to go easily on and off the grid. In the early stages, battery power would be used off-grid, but as the grid is extended, batteries could become smaller. Cars needing to travel further off-grid would need either bigger or better batteries, the same problem that faces all electric cars today, but with the option to recharge-on-the-go as close as the nearest grid-enabled highway. Since about 90 percent of the U.S. population lives within four miles of a National Highway System road, electrifying major highways would immediately solve the range issues of current electric car technology.
The car owner's electricity provider account information would be programmed into the car, and would be handled similarly to today's cell phone network so that power would be available everywhere at a not too unreasonable cost. As a fringe benefit, Smart Highway Electrification would, in effect, create a directional cruise control for each connected car. Add to this GPS, collision avoidance radar and/or centralized traffic control, and a complete autopilot for the car goes from science fiction to reality. Over time, this charging and directional grid could be improved and extended to allow cars and trucks to be programmed to go from place to place, reducing labor and allowing more ground transportation as an alternative to planes. As the grid is extended to run directly to businesses and homes, people and goods could be moved from origin point to destination without having a driver at all. The savings in man-hours, accidents and just plain wasted human time would be incalculable. Seniors and the disabled could travel more easily. The 40,000 deaths each year on American highways would be dramatically reduced, perhaps even eliminated or minimized to the level of freak accidents. Today's one-truck owner-operator could move up to operating a whole fleet of vehicles -- or shipping containers of all sizes, with the electric motors, wheels and programming to take them right to their final destination. The physical highways would become like their digital descendants, but instead of just information, Smart Highway Electrification would move goods, services and people almost effortlessly and at a fraction of the current cost.
As the benefits and safety of Smart Highway Electrification become more established, a further possible extension would be to allow single-person cars that could fit inside buildings (no gas, no exhaust, no bulky power supply or need to be surrounded by lots of steel), allowing seniors and the disabled access to shopping, entertainment, restaurants, doctors' offices, friends, relatives, work and even their own homes without the hardest part of the whole trip - getting out of the car and going inside. Higher speed lanes would also be possible, allowing replacement of air transport by ground for more travellers. A 175-mph lane would get you coast-to-coast overnight: leave at 5 p.m., eat dinner, watch a movie or work on your computer, sleep like a child in a Pullman car watching the countryside and the stars go by -- and arrive fresh and with your proposal actually ready by 9 a.m. the next day.