Post oil: Solar roads, air-powered cars, human-powered iPhones

Concepts already developed give a glue to a world, post oil – from roads made of solar panels, to air-powered cars, and iPhones powered by a wave of the arm.

Virtual vacations

"Real Virtuality" is what British scientists are calling a technology that they hope will replicate all five senses. Research teams from the Universities of Warwick and York unveiled a demo in 2009 that looks something like an astronaut's helmet – wide, high, and round. The headset plays images and sound from prerecorded video, which is the easy part, relatively speaking. A glove or other "tactile device" will replicate the sense of touch, and the team is trying to figure out how to "replay," on virtual demand, smells and tastes captured from the real world. Don't cancel the plane tickets just yet: A working model is still about 15 years away.

Solar roads

A husband-and-wife team, Scott and Julie Brusawin, are developing solar panels to replace asphalt on highways and parking lots. Asphalt is petroleum-heavy, but a solar road would do more than replace oil. The technology could capture energy to generate electricity for local homes and businesses. Roads could power LED-lighted lane lines, eliminating the need for safety paint. A solar road could also defrost itself. The Idaho couple's company, Solar Roadways, Inc., received nearly $1 million this summer from the Federal Highway Administration to move the idea from pilot to product.

Fueled by air

French company MDI has developed an engine that runs on compressed air. The gasoline-free "AirPod" prototype tops out at 30 miles per hour, but the company is developing several models, including public buses. In Canada, meanwhile, Dalhousie University engineering students tested their skills by building their own compressed-air engine. With funding from oil giant Shell, they built a go-kart engine that hit more than 200 m.p.h., says Tucker. The downside of all that speed? "They ran out of air quickly."

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