Robotic cars can help our traffic

September 5th, 2012

ThinkTech Hawaii

My article about Robotics appeared in the Business Section this past Tuesday. Two email responses to that article are interesting, one from writer Tom Brandt and the other from an old friend Ray Tsuchiyama.

Tom Brandt reminded me that cars are also a great place for robot development. He said that if the ongoing development of self-driving vehicles as not yet been factories into local planning and debate about rail and other traffic solutions, the time may have come. According to the current issue of The Economist, he says:

"Since the 1990s, some cars have used radar to monitor surrounding vehicles and computers to break or accelerate automatically (aka "adaptive" cruise control,) and self-parking models have also been developed. General Motors, Ford, and BMW are also developing cars that steer themselves by following lane markers. Since at least 2007, DARPA - the research arm of the US. Dept. of Defense - has sponsored annual robotic car contests. Two years ago, Audi sent a self-driving vehicle up Pike's Peak at about the same speed as the average driver. Last year, BMW sent a self-driving car at highway speeds from Munich to Nuremberg.

"This year, the state of Nevada issued its first self-driving vehicle licenses to Internet giant Google, which has already racked up half a million kilometers on both test tracks and public roads. (California is considering similar legislation.) Self-driving vehicles are already being used in industry, and two experts quoted by the Economist predict they will be available to the public in eight to ten years. In addition to reducing accidents due to human error, driverless cars could potentially coordinate routes and travel in close formation, thereby increasing road capacity, reducing congestion, and saving fuel."

This is very exciting, and supports my proposition that Hawaii is well qualified to develop robot technology. We are certainly (and regrettably) well acquainted with traffic and our highways could serve as a perfect laboratory for robot cars as a solution to traffic. Right on, Tom. Let’s do it! Our traffic is not just the impediment it seems to be; it's also an opportunity.

Regrets I didn’t cover the DARPA robotic car challenge programs in my article. Robotic cars have got to be a huge thing for the future. These are discussed at length in a movie of a talk by Rodney Brooks of Rethink Robots and it’s worth taking a look at it. It’s on

The other response of interest was a note from my old friend and tech guru Ray Tsuchiyama. He sent me a link to an article he wrote for Forbes last year about robotics. It had some of the same references as my article, but it concluded that nothing much was going to happen in the near term and that it will be decades before we find a people’s robot in the stores, but that the R&D that had to be done in the meantime would be fascinating.

Here’s the link:

It's a great article, actually an essay. Worth reading, for sure.

I still think Hawaii needs to capitalize on all the knowledge it has, or at least its children have, about robotics and that it should take affirmative steps to incentivize more than just high school competitions – it should take the steps, and spend the money, to incentivize a robotics INDUSTRY. That’s what we need, and we aren’t going to get it by accident.

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