A look at the future without drivers

A FUTUROLOGIST has predicted an end to traffic congestion, road rage and car crashes – but only after humans have stopped driving.Ian Pearson, who is based at Martlesham Heath near Ipswich with BT Exact, believes computers should be allowed to take over the wheel.

A FUTUROLOGIST has predicted an end to traffic congestion, road rage and car crashes – but only after humans have stopped driving.

Ian Pearson, who is based at Martlesham Heath near Ipswich with BT Exact, believes computers should be allowed to take over the wheel.

He said future technology will enable drivers to plan routes to avoid queues and have their engines programmed to tie in with speed limits.

But Mr Pearson insisted the only real solution to traffic problems is to stop people having any control over their cars.


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"I don't mean that we shouldn't have and use cars, just that they should be driven by computers and not humans, electronically tethered to cars in front and behind," he said.

"Computers can react in microseconds, allowing cars to drive a few centimetres apart at high speed, with cars joining the flow much more easily too.

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"So, if we were to hand over our cars to computers, we could increase safety and reduce journey times.

"Better still, road rage would be eliminated and instead of cursing the incompetence of the driver in front we could just sit back and relax."

He added: "Using this technology we may not have the thrill of driving a powerful car on an empty road, but with the growth of traffic, that's an option that even today is open only to relatively few of us."

In his work with BT's research, technology and IT operations business, Mr Pearson investigated how growing traffic problems, including congestion charging, worsening traffic jams and unreliable trains, could be solved.

He concluded that technology rather than motorway tolls is the answer to the increasing traffic crisis.

Mr Pearson said: "The expanding broadband network makes it easier to telework, allowing individuals to eliminate some travel completely.

"And if you do have to travel, the net can make it easier to find out when the next bus or train will arrive, potentially making public transport more attractive."

He added: "Traffic navigation systems currently allow individuals to bypass traffic jams but only work when only a few people have them. If everyone tries to bypass a jam, another would quickly appear on the bypass route.

"Meanwhile, tests are starting on cars that have their engine management systems linked to local speed limits, using on-board GPS receivers. If the trials are successful, we may see all new cars fitted with the system by 2010, making it impossible to speed."

Mr Pearson predicted that such technology would not succeed in reducing road accidents.

"The partially randomised speeds that people drive at normally ensure that traffic tends to form into clumps, with large gaps followed by a number of cars close together," he said.

"As speeds converge on a fixed speed, cars clump together much less, so gaps large enough to move into become much less frequent.

"Locking everyone to the speed limit could thus make congestion subjectively worse. A demand for more traffic lights and roundabouts would follow, increasing both journey times and the scope for gridlock.

"Driving would be more difficult and dangerous, so we would probably see an increase in road deaths."

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