Most people will have the option of buying a car that is part robot in some sense next time they visit a dealership. Vehicles ranging from German luxury cars to mass-market American sedans are now equipped with automated safety systems, which rely on computer processors, software and sensors.Future models from Mercedes-Benz have radar systems that brake a car in the event of an impending collision, stay in its proper lane around curves and sense when a driver is fatigued. Ford Motor Company’s midsize Fusion sedan has a lane-assist system that alerts drivers when they stray on the roadway. Many cars come with adaptive cruise control that automatically cuts the speed when the distance between vehicles gets too close.
The availability of semiautonomous cars and the encouraging federal support for driverless cars are all of a piece with the broad shifts that will transform American society in coming decades. We’re moving from an economy based around moving meat to one that moves information. Driverless cars, telecommuting, and the rise of satellite offices all are a part of this trend.While this transition will be driven from the bottom-up by technological change, it will also needed to be guided by smart policy and regulation. The feds getting into the driverless car business—supporting the technology but urging patience as the new technology is tested—is good news.[Driverless Google car image courtesy of Wikimedia.]