It’s no longer a purely hypothetical question, reserved for Tom Cruise movies. Self-driving cars are here. Thanks to Google.
According to this morning’s New York Times, Google is already driving – or should I saw “testing”? – robot-controlled cars on trafficked U.S. streets and highways. And while such cars are “years from mass production” and involve countless legal issues , the real possibility of autonomous autos could change their relationship with their urban environment forever. How?
The engineers say the technology could double the capacity of roads by allowing cars to drive more safely while closer together. Because the robot cars would eventually be less likely to crash, they could be built lighter, reducing fuel consumption.
…There is even the farther-off prospect of cars that do not need anyone behind the wheel. That would allow the cars to be summoned electronically, so that people could share them. Fewer cars would then be needed, reducing the need for parking spaces, which consume valuable land.
In an age of New Urbanism, the cry for fewer cars on the road has never been louder. The demands on infrastructure from wide-spread car use are well-documented. The only real alternative currently is denser communities in order to make public transit a viable and convenient option.
Problem is, today most people don’t live in dense neighborhoods. So, is a safer and more efficient car another potential alternative to a world of gridlock and smog?