The Warrior's headline was "What's next, cars that drive themselves?"
It got us to thinking that, based on what we've seen in the transit and trucking and even the rail industry over the past several decades, the answer may well be "Yes." And it may not just be commercial vehicles that provide transportation independent of driver interaction.
We recall seeing decades ago, a Popular Mechanics magazine ‘vision issue’ illustrating how automated highways were in our future where drivers would queue up and enter ‘tracks’ where they and their passengers would travel comfortably, safety and efficiently, in caravans of automobiles – almost like passenger trains – along long stretches of highway. Well, these never materialized but are such visions impossible?
We've been attending the Transportation Research Board (TRB) conferences now for many years and one of the research tracks has been indeed auto-drive vehicles. The TRB works on research and demonstration projects year in and year out in colleges and universities not only in the U.S. but across the Globe and meets once a year in Washington D.C. to review the previous year's research. Hundreds of panels of speakers and presenters review literally thousands of research papers on every possible aspect of transportation including all surface modes from pedestrian and bike to high speed rail.
It is an inspiring week of academic excellence on a subject that touches every one of our lives: transportation.
Following the path of the 'driver less' vehicle studies, there are ongoing demonstrations by using automated vehicles that maneuver through a simulated streetscape safely. Many are city transit vehicle experiments where buses run along ‘tracks’ – pavement-level tracks or sensors, not raised rails - built into the street surface providing a path or course or travel. Sets of sensors or tracks at intersections arrange for vehicles to ‘dock’ automatically or, on demand, to pick up waiting passengers or allow people to disembark.