There is something called “desire paths”, that I learned about while watching an excellent TED talk by Mr. Tom Hulme . Desire paths are the short-cuts or “paths of least resistance” that one recognizes while interacting with a structured model. Sidewalk landscaping around buildings is a good example. Have you ever found that the walkways to buildings are too circuitous, taking you on unnecessary journeys through gardens and parking lots? They abdicate the “line” rule, the shortest distance between 2 points. Impatient people like me may cut through the lawn and wear down the grass until a more direct dirt path emerges. If the architected field of dreams does not correctly anticipate what we need, users may not come.
Recognition of desire paths may improve implementation of any technology. When the elevator was first developed, there was nervousness about the cable breaking and the risk of a free fall for all. Innovators, like Elisha Otis in 1852 pioneered solutions. Now, the pleasantries and culture of attendant operated elevators are forgotten and automation is taken for granted. The designers of the autonomous car also believe that we will learn to accept and safely use their technology too.
So what are desire paths that may enable quicker implementation of the autonomous car? One way is to put smart cars on smart roads. This means switching on autonomy when the enabled vehicle drives on a road that can interact with it because of technology integrated in the roadway, signs, and lighting. Highway lanes could be designated for autonomous vehicles just as there are lanes for vehicles with more than one passenger. When the vehicle leaves this special lane, it would revert to manual control.
Another model for autonomous driving is vehicle platooning. Here, cars or trucks could be
switched into autonomous mode when they join a string of similar vehicles. This sequence of vehicles resembles the attached cars of a train. The first vehicle in the platoon is manually driven. In turn, it chauffeurs the vehicles behind it. This model is being investigated by the Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project in Europe. Advantages include fuel efficiency, decreased wind drag, and autonomy for the chauffeured vehicles.
Perhaps someday, I will own a car with a single red brake button and no steering wheel or floor pedals. And I may find special desire paths for driving such a car. Until that day comes, there are other ways autonomous vehicles will become mainstream soon – at least that’s what I desire.
References: The concept of “autopilot” lanes was described in an article by T Melba Kurman, Triple Helix Innovation and Hod Lipson, Cornell University in December 2013 called: Where Are the Autopilot Lanes for Driverless Cars? (Op-Ed)
Future Car from iStock photo. Formula One race car with light effect.
Horse drawn street car: “Rapid transit in 1877″ – First horsecar run in Manchester, New Hampshire”. Published 1908 by the Hugh C. Leighton Company, Portland, Maine. Image was downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.