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In today’s Washington Post I paint a picture of how an edge city near Washington, D.C. can be wired with a system connecting smart phones with self-driving cars, buses and trucks. We hear from robotics expert Robert Finkelstein and consultant Richard Bishop who say we’ll gain productive time if we aren’t driving or caught in traffic. We’ll be safer, too. Smart vehicles have onboard sensors which are being shown to dramatically reduce crashes. Plus they never get tired or distracted.
This technology isn’t right around the corner – it’s already here. Worldwide, Google and at least eight car manufacturers are testing self-driving vehicles, which can legally operate on highways in California, Nevada and Florida. Shuttles with no drivers are already in use at London’s Heathrow Airport.
But if we don’t drive ourselves, will we be less durable? Do we lose our purpose?
For humans to remain durable, we need to be self-directed, have genuine relationships with other people, and the free time to explore our interests so we keep coming up with new ideas. If cars drive us, we can do other things with our time and have more of it to spend on each other.
But no matter who (or what) is driving, sitting in a vehicle is sedentary. If we walk or pedal a bike, we propel ourselves – maximizing freedom, strengthening body and spirit, and being in better touch with the natural world around us. Unfortunately, though, that form of travel isn’t great for long distances. Meanwhile, public transit will continue to enhance personal liberty even if buses and trains drive themselves.
So, it appears robot vehicles are neither curse nor panacea, but updated tools in our travel arsenal – labor-saving devices akin to the automatic dishwasher.
As Richard Bishop puts it, self-driving vehicles “unleash the human potential to do more magnificent things than moving a machine around. I like to use the words ‘unnecessary suffering’. A traffic jam is unnecessary suffering. Technology is one way to solve it.”