Last week Nevada's Legislative Commission approved regulations allowing for the operation of self-driving vehicles on the state's roadways. This brings closer the day when roads will be full of driverless cars - a scenario that is examined in a thought-provoking infographic.
Nevada passed a bill in June 2011 requiring its Department of Motor Vehicles to draft rules for autonomous vehicles and this process has now been finalized, making Nevada the first US state where having a robot driver is completely legal.
To comply with new rules autonomous test vehicles will display a red license plate and when the technology is approved for public use, the cars will carry a green license plate making them distinct from Nevada's standard license plates which are are bluish-gray.
But what are the implications of the replacing car drivers by robotic systems. Here are some initial suggestions summarized in an infographic:
So, according to this analysis the downside of robot cars includes lost revenues and lost jobs while the overwhelming benefit is less carnage on the roads.
However, these are just the most obvious impacts. Consider the implications a bit further and you realize that we will all change our behavior and live our lives differently.
Even if driverless cars appear slowly on the roads and we have mixed human and robot drivers, things will change fairly quickly. If you have a robot car you don't need to park it you simply send it home and tell it to pick you up at a fixed time. If home is too far you simply tell it to "go park" and the car goes off on its own looking for a free space - which can now be a longish way from where you were dropped. If there are no parking spaces, the car can just circle the block.
Phrases that we will soon treat as perfectly normal:
"Car - go and pick up the kids after the game"
"Car - there is a takeaway meal ready for collection at...".
"Car - go to the garage and get an oil change."
and so on...
You see how radically the car changes its utility.
On a longer time scale, cars will no longer be extensions of the owner's personality.
Who cares which car they are driving when they aren't driving but being driven. The idea of car pooling suddenly becomes a no-brainer. As long as a car takes you from your home to work and then another picks you up from work and takes you home - who cares which car it is?
Come the day that robot cars are the norm and we ban human drivers because they are too dangerous, then things can change in an even bigger way.
Who needs road markings and controlled junctions. Cars can flow like particles in a pipe. Robot drivers have no need to be controlled by signals at an intersection they "know" where every other car is and can simply time things so that they pass through a clear space. The only issue is whether or not the passengers will be happy with the prospect of speeding toward a busy intersection with traffic seemingly playing chicken at the crossroads.
Of course we won't need to build many more roads because robot cars can simply drive closer and so pack more cars per road. They also do away with the braking wave effect that causes a slight slowdown in traffic flow to propagate back and become a complete halt for no obvious reason. Now cars can pack a road and move as a block, limited in speed only by the robot drivers' reaction times and the laws of physics.
If you think that building and accepting robot cars is just a way to make driving safer then think again.
It may be an over-used term but this really is a game changer. Once every car comes with its own chauffeur, things will never be the same again.