Lisa’s Inventions for the Future

When I was in sixth grade, I entered a national poster contest for envisioning the future. My parents had plans to move us from Wisconsin to Phoenix, so I drew a picture of air-conditioned and heated clothing. 1500 kids entered. The top three won money and ten runners-up won T-shirts. I won a T-shirt. It wasn’t air-conditioned.

So when a Washington Post columnist wanted submissions for ideas about the future, I did what anyone with a Ph.D. in engineering would do. I sent him a paper I published.

The idea was a driverless mini-taxi. When someone wants to use the mini-taxi, she calls for it by dialing on a cell phone. A GPS knows where the cell phone is and where all the idle mini-taxis are waiting, so the GPS sends location data to computers to dispatch the closest available mini-taxi to the person. She swipes a credit card to pay the fare and types the address of the destination. Then the taxi’s computing power calculates the route and joins the other taxis to form a train, joining and leaving train groups as it turns onto each road-like structure along the route. When the mini-taxi arrives at its destination, the person gets out and the mini-taxi becomes available to transport other people or goods to their destination.

I don’t think Big Auto or Big Oil will let this happen in the U.S. It would likely have to be some type of electric rail system so users wouldn’t have to be responsible for filling gas tanks. But I wouldn’t be surprised if this came to Europe. Maybe even China or Japan.

The winner of the contest got a free lunch. Runners-up got their name and invention in the Post. No air-conditioned mini-taxi. Not even a plain T-shirt.

Every day is a slow news day in Reedsville

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