Nevada has always been a state with weird news, but this latest technological trend from the city that brought us Las Vegas and Area 51 may top the list. The state is on the fast track toward allowing automated robotic cars to travel its highways after giving its first robotic vehicle, a car designed by Google a license. What effect will these robot roadsters have on traffic? How do they work? And is this move by Nevada just one step toward a much larger move toward increased automation in vehicles?
The google car destined to hit the roads will be a modified Toyota Prius with integrated sensors, video cameras all around, and a computerized brain that allows it to move effectively through traffic. After already rolling down the Las Vegas strip in a test run, engineers were confident the vehicle could easily pass a driving test with flying colors.
The project, financed by Google was led by Sebastian Thrun, an engineer and director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Thrun is better known among techies as the co-developer of Google's Street View project. In 2005 Thrun's prototype AI car "Stanley" won the team a $2 million prize from the DARPA Grand Challenge and the US DOD.
Last March Nevada lawmakers passed the first driverless AI guided cars bill, and the Nevada DMV has now issued its first license to a robotic vehicle. And as developers race to make the safest system possible, they say their confidence in the project is high. It seems in the future, human errors and crashes could soon become a thing of the past. But if such a system were to become the mainstream, how would this affect highways? How much would the world change if drivers were to be replaced by machines? It's difficult to imagine, but this seemingly simple technology could mean big changes in the world of transportation.
Will we soon find a world of robotic cars where human error is a thing of the past? Or will the lack of drivers in vehicles cause unforeseen problems? Regardless, it is one more thing we were told the future would have that can now be checked off the list - cars that drive themselves. Will there still be a need for the human driver in the world of tomorrow? Automatic driving cars have featured in a number of science fiction films, including I, Robot.
Autonomous vehicles in the future have some drawbacks, but there are also several potential benefits to using the vehicles if they worked in the way developers hope. In addition to reducing the number of crashes due to human error they could also decrease traffic congestion with more streamlined automated highways for improved traffic flow. The elderly and disabled could more easily access distant places with their own personal robotic chauffer. And then one final benefit of turning over our fleet of cars to AI overlords - the cars could pick you up whenever you wanted at the touch of a button, eliminating the need to find a parking spot ever again.
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