The stakes, the technology, and the vision of driverless vehicles is bigger and further developed around the world than the story tells. Two solar-powered driverless cars are currently on a 8,000 mile road test that originated in Rome and hopefully will end in Shanghai. The trip plans to travel through mountains, deserts, servere climates, rural and urban environments. Along the way, a number of strategies and technologies are being used, with reams of data being collected. One strategy uses a human piloted car as a lead with the unmanned car as a follower, guided by laser and computer connections.
More importantly, the technology has other applications. Imagine a tractor working in an agricultural field, unmanned; freeing labor to perform other tasks, making farming more efficient.
Modifications of the idea of driverless vehicles are already being used in Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, a master green city that is employing some of the world’s most advanced green and clean technologies and ideas. this zero-carbon city, rising from a footprint of a small fishing village plans to reach 1.6 million in population in 50 years. Massdar’s transportation is tied to the idea of a personal rapid transit sytem. It roadways are tunnels traveled by magnetically guided cars propelled by solar batteries that can reach speeds of 40 mph and stop automatically. Think of it as having a personal subway car that you program for the appropiate stop. It will have gateway car parks to leave and store vehicles. You may return later to pick up a vehicle without waiting. (Similar to the trams that operate under the US Capitol building, but more advanced in technology and personal in directing point-to-point travel.)
Through proper planning and public and private sector engagement, a seamless system of high speed rail, personal rapid transit, and even bicycling could reduce the carbon foot print for transportation, ease congestion, increase productivity, and offer new options in a way that harkens the time when the horse knew the way home.