À la dualmode

Jan 18, 2006 at 12:00 am

It's an intriguing vision, but as it is now you can't get there from here. At least not the way Francis Reynolds wants you to do it. And how he wants you to do it is through a transit concept called dualmode.

The idea is that you'd have an electric-powered car that would allow you to tool around your neighborhood just as you do now. But when it came time to commute to work or make a trip of any length, you'd pull onto an automated guideway and let a computer do the driving. From Maine to California and all points in between. It's an expansive vision to say the least.

"Most dualmode people are proposing small, limited systems," says Reynolds, a retired Boeing engineer. "I'm looking at it in a worldwide view."

It's a concept that, to actually occur, would take a level of cooperation between government, the private sector and the car-buying public that is virtually unimaginable.

What he's advocating is a system of standardized cars designed for standardized roadways that would have to cover the entire country, perhaps even every major roadway in the world.

The fact that the idea might meet considerable resistance didn't really occur to Reynolds when it first began taking shape. "When I started," he says, "I thought that this is so good, there'd be no problem. The politicians would love it, the people would love it, governments will get on board."

Then reality hit.

"It is," Reynolds now concedes, "a bigger undertaking than the present world is willing to get started on. The politicians don't vote for anything they don't think will earn them votes, the general public doesn't understand a concept like dualmode, and it's too far out for the media to understand.

"I don't think you can get there from here," he says.

But Reynolds hasn't completely given up hope.

"I think that maybe we eventually could get there — if the world survives that long."

There are others pursuing similar dreams. RUF, a Danish company, says on its Web site that it is pursuing projects in India. Its car — a prototype has been built — would drive on streets and then, for longer trips, move onto a monorail-like system where it would join train-like convoys that move together at high speeds.

If all this sounds completely fanciful, think about this: Last year, at Expo 2005 in Aichi, Japan, Toyota — yes, that Toyota — ran buses that, in one mode, operated much like a conventional vehicle but, when on a dedicated roadway electronically linked to other similar buses, then operated as driverless automatic shuttles.

So, who knows? Maybe someday we will be able to get there from here. Send comments to [email protected]