edit: update: this video backs up my belief that self-driving cars and people shouldn't mix.. this warehouse has self-driving bots to move stuff around and they even do it in a 'human exclusion zone' bots and humans aren't going to really mix well.
First of all, can we stop with the autonomous vehicles and the self-driving car? It's too hard to say, too many syllables etc...
If a phone with a computer is a smartphone then a car with a computer is a 'smart' car. Henceforth in this blog I will refer to these cars as such.
This is how I believe smart cars should be phased into our lives, and I will explain why.
Most people are not really ready for smart cars, and the streets and traffic systems we have are not really ready for them either.
The biggest problem is mixing the smart cars into regular traffic with human drivers. Smart cars cannot make eye contact or otherwise communicate with other drivers, other drivers can't always tell a smart car when they see one. A car being driven by a computer should be easily recognized as such.
So, mixing them into regular traffic. This might sound odd, but LET'S NOT DO IT. Bear with me a moment and I'll explain.
The smart cars could be phased in with limited trials in limited zones during limited times. During these times and in these zones, regular human driven cars would be prohibited. Smart cars would be limited to low speeds in pedestrian zones to familiarize people with the technology and insure safety. THE SMART CARS WOULD GIVE FREE RIDES TO PEOPLE IN THESE ZONES/ DURING THESE TIMES. This would further ingratiate people to the smart car.
After trial periods and safety/familiarity is established, the zones and times could be expanded. Also the speed limits could be increased.
The final implementation would be to allow the smart cars onto freeways IN LANES SIMILAR TO CARPOOL LANES SEPARATE FROM OTHER HUMAN DRIVERS. The ROAD WOULD BE A SMART ROAD, able to communicate with vehicles on it and ensure they are operating under computer control and operating safely. If a human driver had a compatible car, they could push a button and use these lanes... similar to toll lanes. These lanes would work wonderfully because all the cars would be going the same speed, they could be coordinated by computer to maximize speed and space, eliminating gridlock and stop and go driving that currently plagues our freeways.
Eventually, as people see the benefits of the technology and purchase new vehicles, the smart lanes/ smart freeways could be expanded. I believe in 10-20 years it may not be possible to use an interstate freeway without such a vehicle, much like airbags and seat belts are mandatory today.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Portland's mayor recently said he wanted to implement self-driving cars, so I thought it was time to put these ideas out there. I have driven in Portland as a cabbie for 10 years so this comes from a place of some knowledge.
Currently Portland has a policy that prohibits vehicles in Old Town on Friday and Saturday nights so pedestrians can safely club hop without worrying about getting run over.. this would be a perfect time and place to test these self driving cars. Google, Tesla, Apple, or Uber could test their vehicles if they are willing to limit their speed and give free rides in that limited zone.
Again, as the technology is proven safe and people become more used to the idea of the autonomous car, the zones and speeds could be increased/expanded.
Another great place to test these vehicles would be in gated communities and or senior living areas, Charbonneau in Wilsonville comes to mind. It's an area that allows golf carts to use the roads.. the autonomous cars, operating at low speeds, could easily mix into this kind of community and win over some of the people that are most dubious of this technology.
I do NOT believe that people in general or our roads are ready for self driven smart cars to mix into regular traffic and use our freeways.
IF we want to put these cars on the freeway we should construct a 'smartcarpool' lane, physically separated by dividers, that allows these cars to use the freeway without mixing with other cars. A commuter could approach the smartcarpool lane (let's say in Portland), touch a button that would relinquish control of their vehicle, and regain control of the vehicle when they arrived in the suburb they are driving to (Vancouver, Hillsboro, Gresham, etc...)
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