Posted by: el1en | September 15, 2009

Safer, greener, and no parking problems – fm4.ORF.at

Erstellt am: 14. 9. 2009 – 15:46 Uhr

Safer, greener, and no parking problems

Within 10 years we will have robot controlled trucks and cars on our roads, according to the Royal Academy of Engineering… will it be a utopia of automotive harmony, or the worst nightmare of man vs. machine?

by Kate Farmer

I remember the cold chill I felt when I first watched HAL 9000, the computer in the sci-fi classic “2001: A Space Odyssey” turn killer. HAL decided that the humans were threatening the mission to Jupiter, and so started disposing of them. I felt an echo of that chill this morning when listening to Professor Will Stewart of the Royal Academy of Engineering asserting that there will be autonomous vehicles on our roads within 10 years. Autonomous, not automatic – that’s an important distinction. Autonomous means vehicle takes the necessary decisions for itself. We’re not talking computer assisted driving, this is the vehicle itself doing the driving. No human driver involved.

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“2001: A Space Odyssey” If that’s not enough to raise your eyebrows, apparently the first of these automated vehicles will be freight trucks. If you’ve seen Stephen Spielberg’s “Duel” you might be breaking out in a cold sweat by now. Even if you haven’t, the thought of driverless, autonomous juggernauts cruising the motorways of the world quite literally “under their own steam” is terrifying enough on its own. Of course, there are already plenty of driverless forms of transport; cable cars, for example, even some underground trains – but they are on rails, or cables, and not out there on the roads doing their own thing, so to speak. However, if Professor Stewart is right, these autonomous vehicles will be safer, more predictable, and more environmentally friendly than their human assisted predecessors. Soon, he says, all road vehicles, including cars, will be autonomous – a sort of chauffeur service, without the chauffeur. No parking problems, no drink driving problems, and smoother, more efficient traffic. The autonomous vehicles will be trained in the highway code and taught how to make the appropriate decisions. They will even stop and call for help if they find themselves in a situation they can’t cope with. Have a listen to what he has to say and see what you think. He certainly made me check my concept of reality – and the various scenarios of Asimov’s “I Robot” keep coming to haunt me – but perhaps I’ve just been taking in too much science fiction! You can hear the whole programme on our Reality Check podcast.

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