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Rudi Kiefer: Ready or not, driverless cars are coming
Rudi Kiefer
The current discussion about driverless cars reminds of my Dad’s first arrival at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. As a lifelong old-school railroad man, he was visibly nervous about boarding the driverless underground train.

Today’s computer-controlled cars, still in their experimental phases, are causing similar public apprehension. On March 18, a driverless Uber car in Arizona hit and killed a woman crossing the road in the dark. Also, the American Motorcyclist Organization has repeatedly voiced strong concerns about bike detection.

Tragedies like that, and concerns about computer bugs and even hackers, need to be taken very seriously. They present an opportunity for great improvement, though. Besides the software glitches that are still occurring, there are also many positive aspects to the driverless car concept.

Robot cars never drink and drive. Their control units never take phone calls, get distracted by texting that the Falcons just won a game, apply personal cosmetic care, search on the floor for that dropped cigarette or discipline the kids in the rear seat.

Entrusting a routine task to a machine isn’t as exotic as the driverless car may seem. Every time we travel on an airline, big chunks of the trip are handled by an autopilot. Cruise control in cars, maintaining a steady speed until the human driver interferes, has been a popular and long-accepted accessory.

When I look into my (imaginary) crystal ball, the future looks safe and bright for driverless cars and the other traffic participants. With today’s technology, robot buses similar to the underground trains at the airport are gaining acceptance. Stockholm, Sweden, started a fleet of them this year. They are still slow, and looking as freakish as Russian cars of the 1960s. But they are the predecessors of truly driverless taxis.

We will see, within the next couple of decades, electric vehicles without human monitors operating on public roadways, with just a few wireless devices along the roads assisting.

If you live in Clermont and need to pick up a relative at Hartsfield-Jackson, there won’t be any more need to drive two hours in heavy traffic, then make the same exhausting trip back. Call an e-taxi to your doorstep and ride it without effort.

The robot cars of the near future will possibly be the answer to the traffic jams in greater Atlanta, and they will bring relief to thousands of stressed commuters.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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