Somerset roads defy computers
A correspondent in the letters columns of today’s Financial Times identifies a problem with computer-controlled driverless cars that has so far seemed to have received little attention. Rosalind Maudslay of Rothbury in Northumberland asks what would happen on rural roads in places like Northumberland or Somerset or the Scottish Highlands. As someone driving roads in Somerset that are sometimes barely adequate to accommodate one car, let alone two, the letter struck a chord. How would Google technology deal with the roads around our village, particularly at this time of the year when mud is more evident than tarmac on particular lanes?
The FT letter highlights the need for common sense and goodwill, to which I would be inclined to add “local knowledge.” Negotiating the roads in rural Somerset demands a capacity to discern hand signals and flashes of headlights; it demands an awareness not only of the width of road required for one’s own vehicle, but an anticipation of how much space is required by the other driver. Nuance is all when it comes to driving in these parts.
A Google-controlled car might be able to estimate to the nearest millimetre how much room is required, what it cannot do is to know how soft a verge might be, nor what might be the reaction of the person driving the manually-controlled oncoming vehicle. There are roads in our neighbourhood where no-one would hesitate putting two wheels into the mud at the edge of the road, and other roads where only a fool would depart from firm tarmac. Oncoming drivers will tend to be accommodating if they drive cars like my aged Peugeot 207 or mud-spattered farm jeeps; people in shiny Mercedes Benz or BMWs are unlikely to diverge from the driest part of the thoroughfare. Expensive German cars will be joined by the drivers of hire cars and those from urban areas; mud and dung are unfamiliar terrain.
Technology is making progress, perhaps Google-controlled trains will become universal, but it falls far short of the capacity for discernment that is required when driving a rural road. If every car was computer-controlled, then it might be feasible, but anyone who knows rural communities will know when the day when farmers hand over their keys is a long way off. Computer technology depends on programming, it depends on planning, it depends on the observance of rules. Identifying the roads of Somerset as presenting a challenge, the letter to the FT recognises that people here are not programmable.
Ooo I think that would be relatively easy to fix. My little dog has a passive chip, and there are loads of cats eyes type of thing. It would be little problem to put active emitter into them charging them with the car rolling on them. The you have the laser reflectors you could put on walls like you see chainmen use in surveying. And not least, and probably simplest, lightly magnetized balls placed into a hopper that would be laid with the tar.
The barely wide enough like in Scotland, and here, would be far safer too. Say you have a stretch wide enough for one, the cars themselves would decide who got to the prime point first not some half blind pair of dimwits overloaded with fear induced testosterone.
We are mercifully free of the numerous boy racers who travel the roads of rural Ireland.
The capital cost of the necessary equipment would probably exceed the worth of making some of our byways driverless.
I think eventually the idea is that a driverless truck will deliver goods to a shop or a bus bringing people to work.
A bet with you. Within 20 years we’ll see vehicles virtually autonomous. First in cities for the programmable nature will speed up the entire transit system. Then the intercity system. And almost instantly everyplace else.
They reckon there is almost 40 trillion worth of trade in this.