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The Many Benefits of the Self-Driving Cars of Tomorrow

Article #8 • Written by Alan Bellows

It's a foregone conclusion that eventually-- most likely within the next twenty to thirty years-- the technology to allow our cars to drive themselves will be upon us. Automakers are already investing heavily in the precursors to the truly "auto" mobile, such as self-parking, adaptive cruise control, and autonomous accident-avoidance systems which are able to brake and swerve the car if needed. But aside from all of the technological barriers, one of the biggest obstacles to the adoption of self-driving cars is going to be the stubborn humans' resistance to giving up the steering wheel.

Anyone who has watched Terminator, Stealth, or Short Circuit can tell you that it will only be a matter of time before a bolt of lightning or downed power line lends contagious self-awareness to these robo-cars... and then our cars will all lock the doors, turn on the heaters, and cart us off into the desert to bake us to death. But assuming that engineers devise an effective anti-murder system, there are many advantages to a car that needs no driver.

The most obvious benefit is that a person who is not occupied with driving is free to do something else, such as sleep, read, make phone calls, watch the news, or bake up a batch of pipin' hot soy-protein choc-alike cupcakes in the car's moto-bake. Life in the future is good. But that's small potatoes, the tip of the iceberg. The self-driving automobile of the future will also dramatically reduce air pollution (even if it still runs on fossil fuels), cut any transit time to a fraction of the length it is now, and remove gobs and gobs of unpleasantness from the world.

The peer-to-peer Internet applications of today are paving the way for the secure network of decentralized, information-sharing cars of tomorrow. Each car will wirelessly convey messages to those around it, relaying hazard reports, road construction, weather, and any number of other useful tidbits. Roadside nodes will also receive, store, and convey these data to any passing cars which were out of reach of the message when it originated. Clearly precautions will need to be taken to prevent car-borne software viruses, such as keeping the guidance software on a read-only memory chip; and the system will need to come with a large grain of virtual salt pre-installed, to be taken with all incoming data.

Once perfected, vehicles which are not operated by mistake-prone bags of intelligent meat will safely cruise well over 100 miles per hour in non-residential areas, with powerplants that are optimized to maintain such high speeds efficiently. And they'll traverse the entire distance non-stop, because intersections will no longer constipate the flow of traffic on thoroughfares. Instead, a scheduling node at each intersection will assign every approaching vehicle a tiny slice of time that it may pass through safely, and each car will automatically slow or accelerate slightly in order to meet that schedule. Vehicles will criss-cross through the intersection at high speeds, every one with its very own guaranteed, unhindered fraction of a second. This will not only save time, but also benefit the environment... cars that don't have to slow to a stop and then re-accelerate consume much less fuel, and consequently cause less pollution.

Another time-saving advantage is that every lane of a highway will become dynamic. If more traffic is moving one direction than another, the roadside traffic-governing nodes will switch the travel direction of one or more lanes to average out the traffic flow, providing maximum efficiency at all times. The intelligent cars will smoothly shuffle into the new lane configuration without missing a beat. In the event that a higher-speed emergency vehicle passes through, an entire lane can be allocated to its passage, speeding its progress greatly.

Liability auto insurance will be a thing of the past when the fender-bender is extinct, and traffic cops everywhere will disappear in a puff of obsoleteness. "Injured in an auto accident" billboards will be peeled down and replaced with "Injured in a Zeppelin Disaster" ads. And inclement weather won't be much of a problem, because a fleet of automated snow plows will be standing by 24/7, responding immediately to keep the roads clear of snow and ice.

Naturally, many households won't even own a robo-car, instead relying on pay-per-use automated taxis that can be wirelessly summoned to one's location at a few moments' notice. And while private taxis will be available, one can save money by riding a shared taxi, whose route is constantly adjusted to pick up new passengers near it's dynamic path as it drops others off at their destinations; all with the straightforward simplicity of an elevator's "come get me" button. The prevalence of these shared vehicles will further reduce air pollution and congestion.

But taxi services won't be the only businesses benefiting from robo-cars. Shipping companies will gain a huge boost in efficiency: Freight will find its way to its destination in about 25% of the time it currently takes by truck. Autonomous cargo vehicles will cross great distances at high speeds, shipping their goods nationwide, non-stop. Automated trucks will also consume much less fuel and have no need for a driver, which will decrease shipping costs. And retail businesses will have a new outlet: Upon request, rolling vending machines can come right to your door to dispense food, clothing, tactile-holographic mega-porn, or anything else you can think of... all for a small added fee of course.

For too long, humankind has wasted precious hours guiding our clunky, inefficient machines of transport from points A to points B. The transition period may prove messy as hardware-driven cars share the road with their meatware-driven counterparts... but there is much to gain in environmental benefits, time-saving benefits, and convenience. A few may dig their heels in and hold out against the steady march of progress, but envy is a great human motivator. One can only watch so many cars full of news-watching, soy-cupcake-enjoying commuters whiz by in the ROBOCARS ONLY lane before giving in to the inevitable.

Article written by Alan Bellows, published on 11 September 2005. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.

Article design and artwork by Alan Bellows.
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25 Comments
vlsi0n
Posted 09 December 2005 at 09:50 pm

Sounds great, but I have to wonder, the auto taxi service where it would be like, come pick me up, how long will it wait? And if it's shared how long will it wait? Of course people wont want to wait 10-20 minutes for you to come out.. otherwise I welcome the future


KeaponLaffin
Posted 23 March 2006 at 09:15 pm

Ok..In advance..I'm very sorry. This comment is racist, sterotypical and downright moronic. But considering the humor of the article, I just couldn't help meself.

Will New York robo-cabs still have a less-than-poor understanding of English?


Filoviridae
Posted 12 June 2006 at 09:42 am

"But assuming that engineers devise an effective anti-murder system..."

Ahahahaha! Awesome. I'll have a hard time accepting this if it does pan out. There are so many variables from software bugs to incompetent road construction offices entering misinformation that there sure seems to be a huge opportunity for error/death. And what about the people who just like to drive? It's likely that there will be some sort of Off switch that will give manual control...will that just make the whole idea pointless? It'll be interesting to watch this infant technology grow up.


CauselessEffect
Posted 18 June 2006 at 12:10 am

I love reading others views on the future. It's so interesting to think of what can be. I do think that before the day comes when all vehicles are automated there will be some better, alternate form of transportation. I would like to think that Moller's skycar or similar air vehicles will probably be a more likely alternative. There's just so much more free space up there for our ever-growing world.

I definately agree with Filoviridae, some people simply enjoy driving. I personally love going for a random drive to explore or clear my mind, it's just relaxing to me.

Also, I think no matter how far in the future, man will never fully trust a robot. Yes, we trust cars and elevators and such, but we drive them, not the other way around. The desire for control over our environment is inherent and will not be handed over to a machine.


MagicMonkeyBoy
Posted 03 July 2006 at 06:08 am

What an attractive vision! although I suspect that it would be many many years (centurys maybe?) before transport inferstructure could accommodate such a grand plan, not to mention the many billions (trillions?) of pounds to implement in the developed world.

Drink driving would be a thing of the past though.


Gerry Matlack
Posted 17 January 2007 at 06:36 pm

Filoviridae said: " And what about the people who just like to drive? It's likely that there will be some sort of Off switch that will give manual control…will that just make the whole idea pointless? It'll be interesting to watch this infant technology grow up."

We got a view of that in that Stallone/Snipes movie - Demolition Man.


DaveyFiskars
Posted 04 February 2007 at 09:23 pm

Don't forget about the millions of jobs lost if truckers are replaced by automated semis.


Dublin
Posted 08 February 2007 at 05:02 am

If the clinical accuracy is to be maintained within Urban Zones, I would suspect that Human driven cars will be restricted to specific road networks. Maybe VR will be so good by then that we won't even bother.

As for road safety, and car related accidents - the software manufacturor is going to have to either be extremely confident in their technology, or come up with one hell of an indemnity for the end purchaser.


Jeffrey93
Posted 16 March 2007 at 01:32 pm

Forget Cedar Point! I want to ride in a robo-car! Imagine blasting through intersections at high speeds...while a car misses T-boning you by fractions of a second! Have this repeated dozens of times during your trip!

I think, for at least the first few rides, I'd have to get me some of those Astronaut diapers to take with me on trips!


Jhon_bxl
Posted 03 December 2007 at 01:31 pm

I think there are two cases you didn't consider: the car races (probably the sole place where "meat-controlled" cars will remain, as seeing computer-controlled cars won't be fun - but the drivers will probably drive remotely in order to avoid deaths) and the car amount VS the road capacity (you spoke about changing lanes way, which I never thought about before and is very clever, but still I'm pretty convinced there will be places where cars will be too numerous to let the traffic be fast and easy).
(hoping my English is understandable :P and yes, this is an old article but I'm reading DI from the beginning as it's, well, DI !)


Ghost
Posted 21 May 2008 at 08:43 pm

Has anyone thought about the pedestrians?


DanThinksDances&femaleGspot
Posted 06 July 2008 at 11:00 pm

Enter your reply text here. OK
These comments are so literal, the artical just some ideas of vision.

Do you remember how stupid our grand parents were around year 2000 using oil for cars, roads, and industry. I'm glad America saved the existing oil supply for small projects. Can you believe, now OPEC countries in the middle east buy oil from us.


elphaba
Posted 22 July 2008 at 09:59 am

Enter KITT.


BenKinsey
Posted 10 September 2008 at 11:36 am

This will undoubtably be used to invade our privacy by governemnt and private companies alike. Every ride we take would be logged.


allduerespect88
Posted 22 October 2008 at 02:59 am

...can come right to your door to dispense...tactile-holographic mega-porn

For that reason alone the inventor of this should get a nobel prize.


stholas
Posted 31 December 2008 at 12:14 pm

Only 9 hours and 45 minutes to go before GM breaks yet another promise.....


stholas
Posted 31 December 2008 at 12:15 pm

Hmmm....different time zone obviously. Make that 11 hours and 45 minutes.


jski
Posted 13 September 2009 at 02:18 am

Dublin said: "If the clinical accuracy is to be maintained within Urban Zones, I would suspect that Human driven cars will be restricted to specific road networks. Maybe VR will be so good by then that we won’t even bother.

And, of course, that could become the game: the car drives itself at 100mph while you drive the same car in a VR simulation, and compare scores! (And, Ghost, you could do it drunk if you wanted! BTW used to live in the desert, 1 in the AM get a twelve pack and hit the highway! Very young, stupid, etc, also very fun, and the area so scarcely populated that this is not near as dangerous [to others] as you might think.)


jski
Posted 13 September 2009 at 02:19 am

Enter your comment here.


jski
Posted 13 September 2009 at 02:26 am

sorry Ghost, your post I wanted to comment on was "Has anyone thought about the pedestrians?"
to which I just wanted to agree that you have pointed out an area needing further study. The obvious answer, I think, would be isolation of the streets from pedestrians, lots of pedestrian bridges and such, but that might be expensive from an infrastructure point of view.

It was MagicMonkeyBoy who said (03 July 2006 at 06:08 am)

"What an attractive vision! although I suspect that it would be many many years (centurys maybe?) before transport inferstructure could accommodate such a grand plan, not to mention the many billions (trillions?) of pounds to implement in the developed world.

Drink driving would be a thing of the past though."

Which is where the drunk driving thing came in......


thekenemy
Posted 28 February 2011 at 06:39 am

So... this would mean, in the future, I could ride my vintage Yamaha R1 through traffic like a madman, and everything would just get out of my way to avoid a crash! Neat.


1ereGMAB
Posted 24 March 2011 at 02:57 am

We are the 1°GMAB from France in Beauvais - Paul Langevin Highschool, near Paris, and we are specialized in cars.
Obviously,the benefits of self driving cars are that even if the person is not driving, the car continues at the same speed. So we gain time on travel. We upgrade security because man is not making mistakes.
BUT drivers who like to drive don't have fun driving, because the car does everything. The driver loses his faculties to drive.


Fishrock
Posted 03 May 2011 at 03:29 pm

CauselessEffect said: "Yes, we trust cars and elevators and such, but we drive them, not the other way around. The desire for control over our environment is inherent and will not be handed over to a machine."

We drive elevators?! Not the ones I've been in. We call them and order our destination--just like the taxis described in the article. Also there are driverless trains (Houston Airport, Disneyland Monorail, rollercoasters in general), escalators, ski lifts, and autopilot systems on airplanes. When the system is reliable and comfortable, people will begin to trust it.

I agree with Jeffrey93...it would be terrifying to see another car barreling on a cross street toward the same intersection as my car...constant bearing, decreasing range, and ultimately loss of sphincter control.

Here's my question: what about wildlife? deer, stray cats, coyotes, squirrels, etc. could snarl things up, potentially. And Thekenemy's motorcycle would cause a noticeable delay for everyone else...I can see how peer pressure (road rage) would turn the tide against the free agent driver.

Minority Report & I, Robot are two more recent movies showing an idea of this technology.


Njaar
Posted 06 January 2015 at 04:22 am

Recently discovered Damninteresting.com and have been binge reading through the articles backwards.

It's interesting coming across this article now in early 2015 where Google has their driverless car licensed and running in some cities as tests. Also we have apps like uber gaining a lot of ground as an easy to use taxi service. It's not hard to imagine the 2 combined and very much achieving some of what is described in this article.


Airco
Posted 09 February 2015 at 03:09 pm

The most obvious benefit is... to do something else, such as sleep, read, make phone calls, watch the news...

Our society continues going backward. We already have the technology with these benefits. They're called trains.


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