I like the idea of driverless or autonomous cars and trucks on our roads and highways.
I like the idea of driverless or autonomous cars and trucks on our roads and highways. Apparently there are already several states with laws permitting these kinds of vehicles and there are several university and corporate teams working on the concepts for the cars.
It appears to me that there are two basic means by which we could have driverless vehicles. One is to have sensors in the roads themselves that would give feedback to the vehicles and the other is to tie it into the satellite GPS systems that already exist. In fact, many of today's cars already have GPS systems that provide enough feedback that not only can traffic managers see where traffic has slowed, but you can see the same results on your Ipad or smart phone.
The road going back to Portland from Mount Hood was tied up and the Ipad was showing red for the length of road that was going very slowly while we were there visiting last year. There was nothing that we could do about it since there is only one route that will get you back to Portland, but we could see that several miles up ahead the road was showing green where it opened up to a four-lane highway.
Autonomous vehicles that can use this technology would be able to look for alternative routes for you if there was an accident or a problem with the road that had slowed traffic. It is possible to eliminate traffic lights in many or maybe from all intersections if every vehicle was guided by this system. Cars and trucks would speak to each other and slow to a safe speed while taking turns crossing the intersections.
This aspect alone would save tremendous amounts of fuel since cars would be operating more efficiently and it would also save municipalities the cost of traffic lights. Another cost saving could be from the reduction in the number of vehicles that a family or individual would need. Your basic car would drop you off at work in the morning and then return home or elsewhere and proposition itself to either be used by another person or to conduct other chores that require driving.
Hopefully this system would reduce or eliminate road rage that is often caused by senseless drivers racing around other cars on the road or those drivers who today are going way too slow in traffic because they are texting. The sensors are sensitive enough to spot a deer on the road way in advance of our own eyesight and they can already spot potholes that might damage your car. Hopefully they will also sense bicyclists and walkers on the side of the road.
Long-distance truckers are not going to like the system because it will virtually eliminate their jobs. Companies will likely opt for the new system so that they can run trucks for many more hours without having the stop for a driver's rest. Personally, I think that anything longer than a hundred miles should be shipped by rail, but we do not have a sufficient rail system in this country. BTW, China, is building new railroads faster than any other country in the world to improve the efficiency of their country. I would bet that in 20 years there will be very few long-distance haulers and truck drivers.
There is always the question of what do you do about older cars, but it seems that you can mount this system in any vehicle, so it is possible that every vehicle can be autonomous and driverless in the near future. One problem is that it could totally eliminate speeding which is an income source for virtually every community, but speeding is a problem that should be solved.
Matt Nowak lives in Lansing and works as a natural resources manager.