Wired Magazine on the “autonomous car”

by Chris Scott on February 17, 2013

Tom Vandervilt wrote a fascinating article on self-driving cars; it appears in the January 2012 issue of Wired Magazine.  The link is below.

I was briefly nervous when Urmson first took his hands off the wheel and a synthy woman’s voice announced coolly, “Autodrive.” But after a few minutes, the idea of a computer-driven car seemed much less terrifying than the panorama of indecision, BlackBerry-fumbling, rule-flouting, and other vagaries of the humans around us—including the weaving driver who struggles to film us as he passes.

The Prius begins to seem like the Platonic ideal of a driver, against which all others fall short. It can think faster than any mortal driver. It can attend to more information, react more quickly to emergencies, and keep track of more complicated routes. It never panics. It never gets angry. It never even blinks. In short, it is better than human in just about every way.

Meanwhile, cruising along and freed from the acts of steering and braking, we’ve become backseat drivers of the entire traffic stream. I find myself imagining how much more smoothly the system would function if every car were like this one. Even at its most packed, only about 5 percent of a highway’s surface is covered by automobiles; if cars were hyperalert and algorithmically optimized, you could presumably squeeze many more of them onto the pavement. And then there’s the safety benefit. Traffic is the most dangerous thing that most of us ever encounter. From 2001 to 2009, American roads claimed 369,629 lives. And the culprit was not poorly lighted thoroughfares or faulty gas pedals but us—one landmark study cited “human errors” as the “definite or probable causes” of 93 percent of crashes.

Faced with the alternatives—that guy who cut us off without signaling, the mom nursing an Ambien hangover who’s drifting into the right lane, the Bluetooth jockey doing 90 mph—I welcome our new robotic Prius-driving overlords.

Let the Robot Drive: The Autonomous Car of the Future Is Here | Magazine



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