Last time we put our life in the hands of a robot car, it managed to park itself without crashing or abducting us. Robot cars also know how to drive like maniacs, and even how to powerslide. These are all very neat tricks -- tricks that might save your life one day. But what's going to happen when all cars are this talented? Efficiency. Scary, scary efficiency.
It's not just the sensor-driven skills that will soon be common to individual cars that will shape the future of automotive transportation, but also the ability for cars to communicate with each other, sharing constant updates about exactly where they are and where they're going. And with enough detailed information being shared at a fast enough pace between all vehicles on the road, things like traffic lights become completely redundant:
Seriously, just watching this simulation (which comes from Peter Stone, a computer scientist at the University of Texas at Austin) makes me more than a little nervous. I'd have to go through that intersection with my eyes closed and probably screaming, but on the upside, I'd get through it without stopping, saving time and gas and (as long as all the robots behave themselves) actually preventing accidents.
So, how close are we to something like this? It's hard to say. In a lot of ways, we're just about there: we have cars that can drive themselves just about as reliably as a human can, and many automakers are working at inter-car communication. But as we've discussed before, there are a lot of legal and social issues standing in the way of widespread adoption, and it's going to take a concerted effort to provide a framework in which we can safely allow progress to be achieved.
Via [ The Atlantic ]