Future transportation vehicles on display here this weekend
On Saturday I drove my wife and myself to Arlington to demo some crazy future transportation shuttles and I was very impressed with what I saw. The van we rode in drove, stopped, and steered safely all by itself. There was no chance of any distracted driving, driving while intoxicated, speeding, or other stupid driver actions that anger me as a Fort Worth car accident lawyer that I see on a daily basis.
I hope these new vehicles can help make our roads safer and reduce the 54 car wrecks in Tarrant and Dallas Counties on an average day. With the rapid changes technology is bringing to our lives, we are on the cusp of innovative changes in the way we move around. Within our lifetimes, it is predicted that vehicles out of a sci-fi movie will be norm.
The Arlington experiment
The three Nissan NV200 vans were certainly different with the banks of cameras, lidar (a specialized kind of radar) and sensors on the roof that enable them to “see.”Using deep learning technology, the vehicles have been trained to interpret this data to safely drive by anticipating, seeing, and reacting to visual cues.
The vehicle was summoned after I went to a kiosk and ordered it to come outside the Arlington Convention Center. The door could not be opened until I typed a password into my cell phone. Then we had to be seat belted in the back seats before the van began moving, only after I hit a green button, so initial safety concerns were addressed.
We took off slowly. The van carefully drove around the Convention Center and stopped at the first stop sign. It waited until traffic had cleared and turned onto Ballpark Way with its right turn signal blinking. So far, so good. Soon we were driving at 25 to 30 miles per hour.
When the light turned to red, the van slowed and came to a perfect stop. In the first few minutes, there was no difference from a normal ride – other than the fact that a computer was driving us.
But my wife and I were not the least bit afraid. Admittedly, the fact that there were two men in the front seats who obviously knew how to control the van in an emergency took the edge off.
Probably to allay the nervousness of us first-timers, there was a computer screen that showed us what the sensors were seeing outside.
Every vehicle, sign, and object had a box around it and was being analyzed by the on-board artificial intelligence. The computer has to react to over one million variables per second according to our “drivers,” who never had to do anything to control the ride.
This limited route had been learned by the central processing unit driving the van after millions of simulated miles had taken place in a computer lab. But other routes could be learned.
For example, in late July Frisco launched a similar transit program operated by the same company Drive.ai. Workers in the Hall Business Park near the Dallas North Tollway are taken around the area and over to the new Dallas Star. Drive.ai is an innovative company that was formed three years ago. Its headquarters are near Apple and other innovative technology companies in the Silicon Valley.
In addition, there are vans in several other cities run by Waymo (which stands for a New Way Forward for Mobility), a unit of Google.
I met with Drive.ai representatives who were intelligent, friendly, and genuinely interested in improving our transit networks. When I asked the man in charge of the Frisco project why he wanted to work for the company, he said that “this will be one of the most important inventions from my generation and I want to be a part of it.”
Watch this video for a more detailed analysis of autonomous vehicles.
Answers to questions you may have
How much does it cost?
It’s free. You can save money on parking lots for football and baseball games, Six Flags, and the new Texas Live. And think of those long walks back and forth to your car.
But on a larger scale, they can conceivably make our streets and highways safer, keep people from being injured and killed, and save enormous billions of dollars in property damage, medical bills, lost wages, legal fees and expenses, pain, and devastation spent on the countless car wrecks we take for granted.
Can I make a reservation?
Yes, starting next week there will be an app that you can use to request a vehicle. There will be kiosks located in this area, but especially on game days and weekends, the vans are probably going to be full so reservations are a good idea.
When will they operate?
If there is not a game or event in the Entertainment District, from Thursday to Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Cowboys games (and Rangers games and other events like concerts) will affect the schedule and route. See the app for details.
How many people can ride at one time?
Three. This will increase to five when the need for the two drivers in the front is eliminated when the program is up and running.
Are they safe?
They are arguably safer than normal, as they are governed by artificial intelligence. So far, there have been no traffic collisions locally and only a few in the United States, some due to poor judgment by people outside the vehicles. Extensive testing found that the human “driver” only had to take back the wheel one time every 200 miles, with no sign of why the driver did that.
Later, there will be only one person for emergencies and then people will be on their own. I thought that was a little scary until I remembered I have no hesitation getting on the driverless tram at DFW or at other airports. Further, the vans are monitored by remote control.
It’s a brave new world
The world-wide automobile industry is quickly coming around to the realization that the present system is not working. According to the Wall Street Journal, there are many companies trying to replicate Drive.ai, Waymo, Uber and Lyft. Uber has transformed how we move around during the day, especially in our biggest cities. It has become a $70 billion company in only eight years and with Lyft and Via has provided an astonishing 10 billion rides.
Every car manufacturer is scrambling to get into this new automated driving business. General Motors will start a robotic taxi service in a few months and is building Chevrolet Bolt electric cars that have no brake pedals or steering wheels. Ford is starting a high-tech laboratory in an abandoned train station in Detroit. Mercedes will begin its own Uber-like service next year in the U.S. and already has a hugely successful business called MyTaxi in Europe. Waymo has announced that it is starting a Uber service soon. And the grandfather of ride-hailing, Uber, has expanded into food delivery.
Another fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal shows how these new technologically advanced vehicles will revolutionize the world. It predicts these changes by 2050:
- Redesigned cars and trucks without steering wheels and areas in the former “front seats” that could be offices, medical offices, gyms, or whatever the consumer wanted;
- Underground roads restricted to self-driving vehicles communicating between themselves so they could move more efficiently, freeing up the ground level for walkers and more valuable urban space than roads and parking lots;
- No motorcycles with their horrible crashes, since they are one of the biggest impediments to the predictability of self-driving cars;
- More all-terrain vehicles working on farms, construction projections, and search and rescue teams. Honda is working on an ATV to do these jobs; and
- Floating warehouses (!) working with drones to expedite deliveries and take vehicles off the road. Uber has already announced plans to use drones from warehouses on the ground, for now.
There’s got to be a better way
In a bit of irony, we were almost late on Saturday because of this traffic jam caused by a car wreck.And on the way home to Fort Worth, we were slowed by another car accident. (No, I was not taking the photo as I drove.)
Congratulations to Arlington
Last year Arlington became the first city in the United States to offer on-demand automated rides to the public. It is still one of the only cities allowing this space age technology. The city wants to be a world leader in the burgeoning new world of automated driving that is expected to become a multi-trillion dollar industry worldwide.
Arlington may expand the program to other parts of the city if the Entertainment district experiment proves to be successful and is mapping out a system for robots to deliver packages throughout the city. It already has its own ride-hailing service where for only $3.00 you can travel across the city in a big loop.
Bravo for the leaders of “America’s Dream City” for trying to use new and safer ways to get around town and reduce injuries and deaths from car and truck crashes.
The world is rapidly changing and the routes through Arlington and Frisco are bright if scary steps into the future of transportation.
For more posts about self-driving cars: