As regular readers of this blog know all too well, I like to solve world problems via a process I call “sitting and thinking about stuff.” Today I will describe my solution to the energy problem.
I think everyone is looking in the wrong place for additional energy. We’re scratching around in the ground for stuff we can burn, redesigning cars, putting solar cells on the roof. The real solution is in my left front pocket.
It’s my phone.
Imagine a few years in the future, when almost every phone has GPS, high speed internet, and a few other goodies. Hold that thought.
Now look out your window and see how many cars have exactly one passenger. It’s most of them. If you can get two or three people in a car, the world is a happier place, energy-wise, pollution-wise, and traffic-wise. The problem is that ride sharing is inconvenient. Hold that thought too.
Now imagine a future where a large company, say Google, sets up a service that lets you find a ride to share in less than a minute, from anywhere to anywhere. You walk out your front door, take out your phone, fire up Google Maps, point to your destination on the map, and wait for the service to negotiate a ride for you.
With GPS, the system knows where you are. Drivers who are already on your road, and have pre-registered their final destination, get an alert on their phones saying someone on the route needs a ride. The first person who responds to the phone alert by pressing a few keys, and who passes a filter (described later) gets the assignment. At that point, both the driver and the intended rider can track each other’s location by GPS on their phone’s screens. And they can call to speak with each other immediately without needing each other’s phone numbers. The system would connect their calls without showing caller ID, for privacy reasons, as often as they need. That way they can negotiate the fine details, such as “I’m the guy in the green sweater standing by the oak tree.”
Drivers would get credits for all rides provided, based on distance, which they can redeem by getting free rides themselves. Or they can resell their credits to others in some sort of open Internet market. Both the driver and the rider have a financial incentive. And like the peer pressure of recycling, it could soon become socially unacceptable to do much driving alone.
All users of the system would have to pass some basic screening, such as credit worthiness, driving record, and criminal record. Beyond that, every rider could specify what sorts of people they would accept rides from, and vice versa for the driver. An ex-marine might accept a ride from anyone. Grandma might only accept rides from married females in newer cars. Over time, drivers earn a ranking from their passengers, so you can choose to accept only four-star drivers if you prefer. Before you get in a car, you can match the driver’s photo on your phone to his face, and the license plate too, to make sure everything is legit.
Your phone could include an emergency panic button, in case a serial killer gets through the filter. Your phone’s location would be immediately available to both law enforcement and other registered drivers on your road. Perhaps your phone would require a password indicating you are safely at your destination in the estimated time. Any other password would trigger a silent alarm while appearing to the kidnapper to be the “all okay” password.
Imagine walking out of Home Depot with a cart full of building materials, firing up your phone, and finding someone with a truck who is heading toward your neighborhood. It beats trying to fit lumber in your Prius.
And if you plan to have a few drinks, there’s no longer any incentive to drive. Part of the reason that people drive while drunk is that getting a cab takes forever in some places and costs more than you want it to.
In this vision of the future, most people still have cars. They just use them less. And you probably wouldn’t allow minors to be in the system, except perhaps as part of a parent-approved circle of known friends and neighbors.
You can find plenty of problems with this system if you try. But you can also imagine that the types of problems you foresee could be solved with a bit more cleverness than I described here.
Okay, to recap: My idea will solve the energy crisis, reduce global warming, put a cap on terrorism, reduce pollution, eliminate traffic congestion, and virtually eliminate drunk driving.
But I’m sure you did something useful today too. Good for you.
[Update: Would the people who are saying "it won't work" please talk to the people saying "it's already being done." Work it out and get back to me. I want to know if I am a crackpot or an idea stealer.]