When I was a teenager, I read one of those “futuristic” stories of robots cleaning our homes and cars flying over our cities on elevated highways of the future.

Let’s say you want to go from Tampa to Miami.  Drive to the automated highway, pay a toll, roll on to a flatbed, stop your car and then read a book or contemplate your navel as you travel over 100 mph.  Arrive at the exit you want for Miami, the flatbed stops and you start your engine and are on your ‘way.  No accidents, no traffic pileups and you didn’t use a drop of gas!

In the St. Petersburg Times Luis Perez wrote about St. Pete’s new city project to convert a hybrid auto into a rechargeable electric car. As he pointed out, this hybrid uses gasoline and battery power to get better mileage from the engine.  The plug-in electric hybrids start the same way, but have larger long-life batteries that can be recharged from a standard outlet.  Progress Energy says you can save as much as 50-75% on fueling costs vs. gasoline.

It’s a two year City project with a price tag of about $37,000.  The utility will reimburse the city only $28,000, and the $9,000 balance should be recouped in future fuel savings.

Several years ago St. Pete started a “green city” initiative adopting earth-friendly policies in lighting.  The door is opening wide for the future complete with public plug-in stations for batteries.  Progress Energy has partnered with Ford to develop the plug-ins.  The optimum distance for such technology is 40 miles per day.

The 3,500 vehicles (19 hybrids) in our city’s fleet are targeted, but there are no immediate plans to purchase more hybrids.  Wonder if the automated super highway has merit any more?