A Google self-driven car
Wired’s Chris Anderson has said “Our children will not believe that people used to drive cars and drive airplanes. We are the weak link in the chain” (NYTimes). I believe it. In Sri Lanka we go a step backwards by having humans directing traffic, as Himal and PravNJ have been debating on Twitter. The beauty of trains, for example, is that they just run. With automated cars we could theoretically have a similar system, just automated.
Few months ago I was leaving a meditation retreat near Kandy. I tried to practice mindful driving. This meant not being a dick, cruising at a safe speed, and generally conserving gas. From Nilambe down to Kandy this was fine. It was downhill so I could keep the car in neutral most of the way, slow down for pedestrians, let people pass, etc. I felt great. Then, as you get nearer civilization, the traffic just gets crappier and crappier. People honk, cut you off, drive too slow, the aggravations just pile up. By the time I got into Colombo, I was driving like a contained ball of rage again. Ye Gods.
Driving should be recreational. Yes it is fun to zip around an Italian racecourse. Going to get the groceries, no. Google is currently lobbying to allow its self-driven cars in Las Vegas. In Colombo that’s obviously a ways away. We still have dogs and cattle on the street and major potholes are marked by sticking a leafy branch in them. But it still seems like the future.
In the meantime, I really wonder whether deploying traffic cops at intersections helps. There’s no standard way that they communicate for example, beyond really eye contact. There modus operandi seems to be to clear a lot of people going in one direction, then clear a lot of people going the other way. My hunch is that this is ineffective. Traffic travels backwards in waves, so if you create and extra long block the wave will go back for miles.
If you had automated cars you could theoretically have the cars literally thread through each other, keeping traffic moving both ways. That is, time the traffic so that there are gaps between cars, and then pass intersecting cars through those gaps. Or any number of things. And I could use car time to sleep or read or whatever, rather than dedicate such a significant part of my brain to being grumpy and trying not to die.
There are certain bits of modern life where you think ‘this is stupid’ and where it seems obvious that future generations won’t be doing stuff the same way. In the past it was feudalism, or blood-letting, or slavery. For me it’s driving.