For some vehicles, human drivers are already becoming obsolete. The science behind unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, promises to spread more widely from military use into civilian applications such as sensing, photography, and package delivery. Farmers have begun to use drones to keep an eye on their fields. And photographers use the devices to get a bird’s-eye view. As these devices become more popular, regulation will be needed to sort out safety, security, and liability issues.
The Federal Aviation Administration has proposed regulation to mandate that all drone users have a pilot’s license, which may slow the use of civilian drones in the short run. But it could clear the way for more widespread, law-abiding use once the rules are set in place. Other transportation breakthroughs are in the works, such as the development of magnetic levitation train systems. Using high-powered magnets, trains hover ten millimeters above the tracks. Without the friction of steel wheels against the rail, these trains can reach speeds in excess of 300 miles an hour, and require a fraction of the energy used by other trains.
As fossil fuel resources run thin, hybrid cars have made progress toward alternative fuel options. These vehicles use both a traditional combustion engine and an electric battery to drastically increase fuel economy. All-electric vehicles require no combustion at all. Though questions remain about whether their lithium-ion batteries can develop the extended range, faster charging time. And lower-cost needed to become commercially feasible on a large scale.