We have HOV lanes HOT lanes, often derided as Lexus Lanes, and soon we might have Hyperlanes, the brainchild of two graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley. Anthony Barrs and Baiyu Chen recently won a big prize for the Hyperlane concept, where they basically propose a separate lane just for self-driving cars or autonomous vehicles (AVs) They tell the Guardian:
“Long story short: high-speed rail didn’t pencil out over here,” Barrs said of the perennially back-burnered California rail project. “We’re primarily looking at cities with major nodes that need to be connected, where high-speed would create high value.”
The Hyperlane essentially functions like a bullet train, which Barrs and Chen said influenced the concept of their design. "We were inspired by high-speed rail in Japan," Barrs said in an interview with Fortune. "We realized we couldn't exactly do that in America, so we started to deconstruct the high-speed rail experience and that’s when we realized we could remove the tracks and deploy new, emerging technologies like autonomous vehicles."
The weird thing about this project getting all this press and prize money is that people have been talking about this kind of thing since 1939 at the Futurama exhibit, with its radio controlled cars, and in Disney’s great 1958 movie, The Magic Highway. This is been the future of transportation for 80 years: cars that talk to each other and move at high speed in dedicated lanes. Which is what the Hyperlane is.
But hey, let's try it again. Unlike Elon Musk’s tunnels where cars sit on sleds, the Hyperlane concept relies on the cars themselves. The cars would be taken over by a central computer as well as talking to each other using “5G technology.” They could travel as quickly as 120 MPH.
“Berkeley to Palo Alto would be a 40-minute trip, and by splitting among five or six people, would cut down the cost,” Chen said. That 40-mile trip can take more than two hours during rush hour.
Berkeley and Chen suggest that high speed rail is too expensive at $ 139 million per mile and claim their sitcom would only cost $ 12 million per mile. But trains exist. Self driving cars that can zip at 120 miles per hour a few feet apart with total dependability do not.
But I have no doubt that we will hear about the Hyperlane again the next time legislators try to kill another public transit project.