This morning, as I was barreling down the on-ramp, I almost killed a guy, twice.I was second in line on the on-ramp, and it was early enough that the highway traffic was at full speed, so the whole gang of us mergers were accelerating like crazy to get up to speed. Out of nowhere, the genius in front of me, who was leading the whole train of us, slammed on his brakes. I was looking over my left shoulder at traffic on the highway, trying to anticipate what hole I should fill, and when I turned back forward the guys' car was no more than a couple feet in front of me. I stamped on my brakes, and fortunately, the guy took off again, or I would have slid into him. Also fortunately, the guy behind me was alert, so I was not rear-ended as well. So I re-accelerate and get on the highway, and lo-and-behold the guy who randomly stamped his brake is going really slow, so I get over and pass him. I glance over at him (not glaring, I promise) and suprise! he's texting on his smartphone. I could have killed him. Twice.
Now, whether I should have had my head facing forward or not and whether that guy has the right to text while driving in rush hour are not the issues here. They would both be non-issues if someone would just suck it up and develop cars that drive themselves. I cannot possibly harp on this one enough, because it is based on technology (unlike my hyperdrive proposal) that we already have, and would save 40,000+ lives a year, in the U.S. alone.
There are several initiatives currently being pushed to automate vehicles, like the competitions funded by DARPA, but most of these are military projects light-years away from being used by civilians, and incapable of handling heavy traffic.
No, what we need is a new initiative. You know a plan is good when you can describe it in 5 steps:
1. Create computer simulations that track vehicle locations in real-time and attempt to streamline traffic through a "Nile Delta" technique around heavy traffic areas.
2. Mass produce automated robotics that control the steering, acceleration and braking of a car and subsidize/mandate all existing cars be retrofitted and all new cars have it standard. Include GPS in this system with uplink to computer servers that optimize traffic and define the shortest route.
3. Test implement this on small towns and gradually increase the complexity of the traffic situations to work out bugs in optimization server.
4. Provide "transition software" to enable automatic cars to be inducted into non-automatic traffic until all cars are converted.
5. Set deadline upon which all cars must be converted. Make deadline less than 24 months.
Now, obviously since I wrote yesterday a seething article criticizing government having GPS in cars so that they could track our location, it would seem strange to endorse it today. But the key difference here is that the primary purpose of the GPS automated navigation system is to save lives, whereas the purpose the Virginia lawmakers have in mind is to create a new tax and have a way to enforce that tax. Not only that, but they are proposing an alternative way to get more tax revenue than they currently are because they encouraged responsible driving, people complied, and now they are getting bit.
A system such as this has several advantages:
1. No need for car insurance, if there are no accidents (where a human is at fault)
2. Sleep on the way to work, or read, or on a long trip you could play games with the family, or stretch out and relax and watch a movie, or whatever.
3. Traffic never stops moving. If traffic can be optimized effectively enough, cars could basically never stop, which by some estimates would decrease the national gas requirement by 30%!
4. Optimization could potentially lead to a decrease in lanes of traffic required.
5. Instantaneous traffic diversion in case of mechanical failure of a vehicle.
6. Increased fuel efficiency leads to less gas purchased by a consumer (not to mention your car could automatically drive itself to the gas station for a fill up when it got low...during the night while you slept warm in your bed).
Of course, this is science fiction, especially in today's uncertain times.
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