Detroit, the city that put the world on wheels, has a chance to do it again with the driverless car.
For those who haven’t been playing close attention – and I ask you to suspend your natural skepticism for a moment – driverless car technology is coming soon to a road or highway near you. It will be driven mainly by the holy grail of a personal transportation grid that is much, much safer than the one we have today – not to mention more efficient.
The technology has been developed by automakers and host of suppliers including Google. They say it’s ready, permitting a car to drive safely on conventional roads using a variety of digital systems including cameras, radar, global position mapping. The driver furnishes the destination and…voila!...the car does the rest.
Don’t believe me? Check out this video, to cite one example.
Driverless cars work, but legal, social and logistical obstacles remain. How will driverless cars integrate with an infrastructure built for cars that require drivers? The answers are being explored by very smart people at places like Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford University and the University of Michigan, not to mention the aforementioned companies.
That cars should have drivers isn’t a given. Think of the millions of human-years of labor more or less wasted behind the wheel. Think of the material and energy to be saved if cars can’t crash. (There’s no obvious reason why those who enjoy driving or don’t want to give up the wheel shouldn’t be allowed to do so – but they might pay higher insurance premiums.)
Most of all, think of the lives to be saved – 35,000 in the U.S. annually – plus the avoidance of countless injuries, serious and otherwise.
To comprehend the benefits of this new form of transportation, public experiments are necessary and should be undertaken without delay. And that’s why Detroit looks obvious as a natural location for the next pilot project.
Imagine a course from Wayne State or New Center along Woodward Avenue to the Detroit River. Irrespective of any rail or other traffic along Woodward, automakers could bring their test vehicles for experiments, test runs and eventually a public system based on driverless cars.
The city has positioned itself as a hotbed of opportunity for digital entrepreneurs. It has always been a hub for innovation and advanced thinking. Why not take a cue from Detroit’s past and reach for the future?