Sunday, May 22, 2016
Advancements in traffic
An impressive array of obese companies like Google are now working on driverless cars. Apparently some models of the things are already in use. I am thrilled at the prospect because I don't want to drive. I don't want to interact with strangers, and I don't want to own a car. I am filled with hope for the dream of being able to just hop into a car that pulls up as I need it and have it take me wherever I want to go. I want a chauffeur, only without the cost or the chauffeur. I want a robot, a robot that I sit in.
My only reservations are due to what I am told is in the limits of my technical understanding. The whole "car driving itself" thing, with said car reading the road, anticipating and calculating motion, shifting lanes, seeing bikers, pedestrians, squirrels, construction, and obstructions seems so wildly complex as to cause the driverless car to glitch out just when it comes to that crucial last tricky two percent of driving. I am assured I am wrong. The Internet says functioning driverless cars are already happening.
Which brings me to the point of my discussion. You see, I'm not really here to talk about driverless cars. Oh that I were!
I'm here to discuss the lowly traffic light. It seems vastly more simple, and wildly within our capabilities to make a smart traffic light. How difficult would it be to program and design a traffic light that says "Gosh, there are 90 cars lined up at my red light and zero cars passing through my green light. Perhaps I could switch them." And crosswalks, let me tell you how most cross walks function for me. I push the button to cross. Nothing happens to my walk sign, but as no cars are coming I cross the street anyway. Shortly after I am finished the traffic light will turn red for approaching cars so that a now non existent person can cross with the walk sign. They are making a million cars that each one can see me the second I step near a curb, certainly they can manage a cross walk symbol that does the same. It doesn't even have to avoid hitting me. It just has to change a few signs and make me legal. I really don't much mind waiting at an intersection, on foot, on a bike, or in a car when other cars and people are passing through the other directions, at least I don't mind for awhile. But just sitting there watching nothing move is way too much like searching the Internet on one of my library's computers.
Here's a small idea. What if Google or Apple made a smart traffic light. It's a bit less ambitious and dramatic, but it would create good will and I'm sure it would be really good practice, sort of a proof of concept. If they can manage to do that then they're ready to move on. If not, maybe we should all continue to watch out for the squirrels on our own.