Autonomous cars are hot and flashy and new. Roads, by and large, are expensive and shockingly boring. But unfortunately, autonomous cars will only work if some radical changes are made to our infrastructure, and this proposed highway is a good place to start.
The Autonomous Friendly Corridor (AFC) is a simple idea: turn US Highway 83, which stretches down the spine of the country from North Dakota to Texas, into a designated road for autonomous vehicles. At the moment, Highway 83 is under-utilised by human drivers, but its position in the middle of US makes it logistically useful for north-south transport.
The AFC wouldn't need dramatic changes to accomodate self-driving vehicles; ideally, it would be limited only to autonomous vehicles being piloted by computer, which would allow the limits of driverless cars to really be tested for the first time. Speed limits could go way up, cars could drive bumper-to-bumper to save gas, and left-lane hogging would cease to exist altogether.
A designated corridor through six states and three countries would also provide an important testbed for regulations and standardization. Currently, self-driving cars are controlled by states, and most haven't got around to writing any rules yet.
Despite all the progress being made by Google, and the slow creep of self-driving technologies into new cars, there's still a lot we don't know about how robotic vehicles are going to reshape our roads. Putzing around Austin at 40km/h is important and useful, but it's only tapping into a small amount of the potential.
The AFC is still basically a pipe dream — it was created by a North Dakotan radio show, and the only serious backing it has received is from the Central North Trade Corridor Association, who are in favour of anything that might bring people to South Dakota for a change.
However, the Obama administration has earmarked $US4 ($5) billion to get self-driving cars up and running on our streets. There's a bunch of stuff that needs that money, but I would also argue that backing a project to enable me to drive from Canada to Mexico at 241km/h, while drinking beer and watching Netflix, sounds pretty damn good. [ReadWriteWeb]