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Is High Speed Rail Irrelevant?

We’ve been following Google’s experiments with self-driving cars for some time now, but robotics can do a lot for our driving even if humans stay behind the wheel. A new study shows that technologies like adaptive cruise control and inter-vehicle communication can improve the efficiency and safety of our vehicles while nearly eliminating congestion:

Researchers at Colombia University took a look at what would happen if we started relying on autonomous or semi-autonomous cars equipped with sensors and/or intervehicular communications systems, and the increase in efficiency is fairly incredible, simply due to the fact that cars can safely travel closer together. When traveling at 100 kph, if all vehicles on the road are simply equipped with adaptive cruise control, highway capacity can safely increase by a factor of 1.4. And if all vehicles on the road are equipped with both adaptive cruise sensors and communication, capacity can be increased by a factor of 3.7.

But aren’t marvels like these years away? Actually, no: all of this is completely possible with technology available today:

Every time we talk about robot cars we have to mention two things. Thing One is that all of the technology to do this stuff already exists. And not just in Google’s fully autonomous cars: there are cars that you can buy today that have adaptive cruise control that can sense the cars in front of them, blind spot sensors that can see cars to the side, and lane sensors that can track lane markings. Vehicle to vehicle communication is nearly a reality too, and the technology has been successfully demonstrated in Europe in the form of road trains.

Not only are innovations like these relatively cheap to implement, they are much better suited to meeting the needs of a large and sparsely populated country like the United States. It’s becoming clear that the infrastructure lobby, with its love of expansive, expensive rail networks, is fighting an increasingly irrelevant battle.

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