All Aboard the Robotic Road Train
Journal article, 2012
Public transportation has its own drawbacks: Buses and trains don't start at your home and don't end at your destination, nor do they leave just when you'd like or even guarantee you a seat. To get the best of both worlds, we could teach our cars to work together, as closely grouped cyclists do in a peloton. The lead car could be entrusted to a professional driver to whom the other drivers would of course each pay a small fee; all the other cars would follow it automatically. The cars would all use networked communications coupled with the optical or electromagnetic sensors already installed in some luxury cars to avoid head-on collision, stay in the proper lane, and brake in case of emergency. These systems have been developed at great expense to provide active safety, as distinguished from the passive kind afforded by seat belts. But this investment, having been made, can now be exploited for other things-like allowing you to relax and read the paper. If only we'd let them. Active systems are improving at a splendid rate. Adaptive cruise control, for example, maintains a car's speed while using radar or lidar to keep a safe distance from the car in front of it, thus automating much of the braking and accelerating. The latest generation of this system can follow a lead car from highway speed to a stop and then resume automatically when that car drives away. Soon the system will get additional data from vision sensors and digitized maps and additional support for the steering, allowing it to slow down on curves.