Thursday, January 20, 2011
Veronique Volvo on Autopilot?!
Miss Ginger is not sure she's ready to let Veronique run on autopilot just yet, but this idea is way more intriguing to Miss G than you might think!
One of the things that Texans love about Texas is the "wide open spaces"... their ability to "roam the range" freely. Texas is home to more miles of road than any other state in the union, and much if it is in the wide open spaces that connect 3 of the 10 largest cities in the country! While this system may not seem to make much sense on the open road, we are closer to a use for it than one might imagine!
With all that roadway comes traffic, and in Texas' largest city, traffic can at times be a nightmare! 4 major highways converge on downtown Houston, and a ring of highway connects them in a loop around the inner part of the city. Getting people into and out of this loop efficiently every day is a challenge that has confounded city planners for years.
While this system could take years or decades to legalize on open roads that would be shared by cars not so equipped, it would be as much easier sell in a place where it could operate independently of traffic that was not computer guided. There is a place where Texas could implement the system safely and inexpensively as soon at it is ready!
Houston is laced with a system of HOV lanes- "High Occupancy Vehicle" lanes that are managed by the public transportation system. They were devised as bus lanes to move commuters from "Park and Ride" lots in the suburbs to their downtown workplaces, but they also allow carpoolers to use the lanes to make them more widely used. Park and Riders are saved the expense of parking downtown, plus can use their commute time for reading, napping, or anything other than driving. The sacrifice is their mobility within the city. Houston is not particularly walkable, so they are pretty much stuck for the day. Most of the HOV lanes reverse at noon... they are inbound in the am and outbound in the pm. Access is limited to controlled on and off ramps, and once you're in the lane, you are walled off from other lanes of traffic.
Miss Ginger has often wondered why they didn't lay tracks down the lanes and replace those stinky buses with electric trains, but that creates the problem of getting the people all the way into downtown from the freeway. Also, for those who need their cars downtown, it eliminates the benefit of carpooling.
But, think if this Sartre system where applied to the HOV lanes!!! You could only use the HOV lanes if you drive a specifically equipped vehicle. The buses could be retrofitted with the lead system, so you wouldn't need special drivers or vehicles to maintain the pace. To use the system, one would simply drive to the park and ride location, line up behind a loading bus, and set their vehicle to autopilot! The car would follow the bus into the protected lane and stay close behind it on the way downtown, with other computer controlled cars in sync. They could read, text, sleep, or whatever during the commute. Rumble strips and cabin signals could alert them when they are reaching the end of the HOV, at which point the car would revert to driver mode, and the human driver could steer to the destination of their choice!
Because the system manages speed, acceleration, and braking, the entire trip would be programmed to maximize the efficiency of each vehicle in the train. The computer controls distance between cars more effectively than a human can, so the cars can be placed closer together to allow more cars to travel the same road in less time. And accidents would be reduced because the system can slow the entire train at the same rate, keeping the cars the same distance apart.
This brilliant concept might almost make Miss Ginger willing to live in the suburbs. ALMOST!