Government think tank boffins look at the future of transport...
The UK's transport infrastructure will be radically changed over the next 50 years by RFID tracking tags, embedded sensors and an artificial intelligence network that will reduce congestion and pollution, according to scientists from the government's Foresight think tank.
The Foresight report looked at four possible transport scenarios for 2056 ranging from a return to an almost tribal agrarian existence, dominated by local communities and little travelling, to Minority Report-style high-tech cities with driverless cars.
At the Minority Report end of the scale the report predicts a "network cloud" that will control traffic flow and speed on roads.
The report said: "In the longer term, artificial control systems, with control algorithms tuned over millions of hours of simulated and real driving, will have the advantage over humans. Eventually we may come to prefer automated rather than human control."
RFID tags, sensors, GPS technology, 4G networks, wi-fi and artificial intelligence will be embedded into vehicles and the transport network to create an "intelligent infrastructure", according to the report. This would inevitably be central to the government's already announced road-user charging strategy.
The report said: "Vehicles will incorporate hundreds of network nodes to manage fuel efficiency, security, passenger monitoring and passenger comfort, as well as inter-vehicle distances and optimal vehicle speeds."
That could spell the end of motorways jammed with heavy goods lorries, with ad-hoc wireless networks using adaptive networking technologies to co-ordinate "flocks of unmanned aerial vehicles for goods transport", according to the Foresight scientists.
The report also looks at how technology could reduce the amount of travelling people need to do - and in particular the increasing use of technology for flexible and home working - and examines how the changing nature of society may cut down the amount of time spent travelling.
But roads minister, Stephen Ladyman, warned that the individual's control over their travel options could be severely restricted because of pressure on fuel resources and environmental and pollution factors.
He said: "Unless we develop new technology it's evident we won't all be able to travel where we want, when we want. In one scenario there would be huge restrictions on where people can travel."