Automation is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “automatically controlled operation of an apparatus, process, or system by mechanical or electronic devices that take the place of human labor.” When we think of automation, we usually consider tools like robotic vacuums, self-controlled thermostats, one-touch coffee grinders and similar tools that make our everyday lives easier. But automation spans much further than household gadgets. In the near future, we can use the term to refer to our vehicles.
Although driverless cars are not a new technology, we usually associate the term with the bulky Google Prius car that looked similar to an alien hovercraft circling test neighborhoods. But- that is changing. Audi and BMW have recently released sport models that, indeed, drive themselves. And, bulky computers that take up half the car aren’t commonplace anymore. Audi reduced the size of its driverless system to fit in its Sport Quattro laserlight edition’s glove box. In addition, the cars will eventually have technology that alerts the driver 5-10 seconds in advance if manual override is necessary. One is to still question if that is enough time to notice a jaywalker or sudden stop from ahead.
Perhaps the most important feature of these cars is the testing themselves. Only a select few states have authorized the testing of driverless cars on actual roads, but test drivers must be present behind the wheel at all times. This past Friday, the District of Columbia published new guidelines that will allow self-driving operators to also drive the streets of DC (not just test drivers). These guidelines are in accordance with the Autonomous Vehicle Act of 2012 which states, “To authorize autonomous vehicles to operate on the roadways of the District, to establish a system of user taxation for autonomous vehicles based upon vehicle miles traveled, to require the Department of Motor Vehicles to create an autonomous vehicle designation; and to establish safe operating protocols for such vehicles.” The guidelines will require drivers to obtain a Class A license from the DMV which deems them responsible for any and all traffic (and other) laws applicable in the District.
Does it make sense that DC, a city known for mass congestion and an even larger mass of pedestrians, be the first to authorize operators to get a special Class “A” license and “drive” a driverless car? Essentially, this technology may allow you to partake in some of the same activities that public transportation has been providing for years: send emails, watch videos and be less concerned with outside traffic. Public transportation saves money and reduces the amount of cars on the road which ultimately eases traffic congestion and flow. Will automated cars help or hinder this issue?
Perhaps the bigger question will be: How safe will this new technology be for pedestrians, bikers, and other drivers? To learn more about DC’s guidelines, visit: http://dcist.com/2014/04/dc_preparing_for_terrifying_future.php and to plan a driverless trip without obtaining the license, visit www.frederickcountymd.gov/transit.