Building the World

US Interstate: Horses to Horsepower


Wild Horses, U.S. Bureau of Land Management

More than 17 million horses shared American roads with 23,000 cars in 1903. Five years later, Henry Ford rolled the Model T off the production line in Detroit, Michigan. Soon, the phrase “horseless carriage” was in vogue (following Scottish engineer James Watt’s coining of the term “horsepower” as that unit of energy needed to lift 550 lbs 1 foot in 1 second). Inspired by Germany’s Autobahn, Dwight Eisenhower authorized the Federal Highway System on June 29, 1956. Soon, the interstate system stretched 160,093 miles (275,645 kilometers) from Maine to California, accounting for 43% of all American travel and transit. But traffic and accidents endanger roads. For these and other reasons, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency launched the DARPA Grand Challenge, a prize contest for driverless cars. In 2004, no entrant succeeded. But in 2005, Sebastian Thrun, co-inventor of Google Street View, headed a team that won by modifying a Prius with Google Driverless Technology. In 2012, Nevada became the first state to legalize driverless cars, with Florida and California racing just behind. What factors will drive the future of cars and highways?

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Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


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