Editorial: Roadmap for the future

Do you remember the future of transport? According to popular visions of the 1970s, we should all be riding around in smooth, space-age trains or nippy little cars, cleverly criss-crossing each other's paths and never having to stop.

Three decades and a computer revolution later, environmental concerns have made that 'clean tech' future look more attractive then ever but the answers aren't so obvious. We get more comments and letters from readers on the areas of global warming, energy mix, sustainable transport than anything else. So sharpen your pencils and open your letter templates ready for this issue.

Even getting numbers is fraught with difficulty. Take our graphic of CO2 emissions from various types of vehicles on p22. These figures were compiled by the IET - a well-respected body of expert engineers as I'm sure you know! The figures are based on data from car companies and the UK government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). And they were in the IET's submission to the government's consultation on renewable energy strategy (check out the documents through links at http://kn.theiet.org/magazine/issues/0910/weblinks.cfm). This indicates that electric cars charged from the UK's present energy mix produce less CO2 per km than conventional cars, but if they were charged from coal they'd be worse than petrol cars. However, figures from other sources put even those cars running on electricity generated only from coal as producing less CO2 than conventional cars.

So why the dramatic differences? Some figures factor in the emissions from mining and moving the raw materials, while others don't. And the conventional cars in the IET chart are the least-polluting examples. There are hundreds of reasons for statistical variation, and I'm sure readers will be only too keen to point out some more of them.

As car makers face plummeting demand, they would like to entice buyers back into the showrooms. On p20, we explore the technologies the manufacturers are staking their futures on. In our power section, on p52, we report on the latest thinking about what electric cars will mean for the grid.On p60, we look at what the major manufacturers are doing with hydrogen fuel cells.

Even racing is going green - if that's not a contradiction. The IET is technical advisor to the TTXGP - the first electric Isle of Man TT race - next month (see p14). On p24, Rebecca Pool looks at a racing car made from vegetables and powered by chocolate - well, a byproduct of chocolate to be more precise.

We touch on aviation and rail too, examining plans for an extraordinary rapid transport system that never stops on p26.

And it's not all about fuel alternatives. On p64, we look at how communications could improve traffic flow, both in the near future by using the signals of mobile phones already carried in cars, and in the longer term using ubiquitous telematics that would allow cars to communicate with each other.

Now, add all these things up: electric vehicles, intelligent navigation, cars 'talking' to each other, silently-driven non-stop trains... Perhaps we will after all live to see that 1970s vision of all those little driverless, silent vehicles, whizzing about and missing each other by inches but never crashing. And perhaps we'll all be doing it in silver jump suits and knee-high moonboots.

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