Last week, at the SAE Government Industry meeting in DC, we were severely disrupted by the weather. While inside the convention people were talking about autonomous vehicles from the dais, the audience was worried about the weather forecasts that would shut down all traffic, autonomous or not. The organizers cancelled the final day of the conference; the Washington Auto Show got closed down (what a waste of time, money, effort that turned out to be this year). Inside we talked about cybersecurity and avoiding having vehicles hacked. We should have been talking about how well an autonomous vehicle can traverse a snow bank or roads chunked with ice.
Now, it looks like there could be an alternative to autonomous vehicles. We’re told that autonomous vehicles will be safer and more fuel efficient than those driver by humans, because the automation is more consistent than the behavior of the human. Yet, we spend time arguing over how the driver will be able to quickly and efficiently retake control of the vehicle in an emergency. We’ve already had terrible accidents in airplanes from trained pilots not being able to retake control properly. What about those behind the wheel of a passenger car or truck?
Here is an interesting piece of research (or conjecture) from England. The Institute of Economic Affairs in its Seeing Red: Traffic controls and the economy by Martin Cassini and Richard Wellings and just published, suggests we can improve traffic flow, reduce emissions, and have drivers less frustrated and angry by removing traffic signs and signals. Add a few rules of engagement between drivers (like the one where the person in the traffic circle has the right of way, and if two people arrive at an intersection at the same time, the guy on the right gets to go first) and you have collaborative driving. They cite a few municipal examples where traffic signals were removed. The flow of traffic improved and the incidents of pedestrian accidents decreased. That’s a win. That’s the ABC’s (Autonomous, Behavior, Collaborative) of driving.