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Published on September 22nd, 2008 | by Michelle Bennett


No Small Steps for Man, One Giant Leap for Prius

September 22nd, 2008 by  

car of the future or cool gadget?On September 7 a robotic Prius took a cruise around San Francisco. The “Pribot” maneuvered through city and highway traffic along a 40 mile course. The only mash-up? A scrape at the Bay Bridge exit. I welcome our new vehicular overlords.

In all seriousness, if this technology were to become affordable, would you buy in? How much trust are you willing to invest in a robot, no matter how stylish? Lesser versions of this kind of technology already exist in luxury Nissan, Volvo and Lexus models. They alert a driver if the vehicle begins to drift out of its lane or even automatically make corrections. So why not take the leap and let your car tackle the morning commute? Who really wants to go through rush hour? Turns out, not the inventor.

Anthony Levandowski, a 28 year old computer engineer, built the Pribot in his spare time. “I commute a lot,” Levandowski said. “It’s really stressful…If I could be more productive and be safer, while doing that, that’s (better).” Though Levandowski works for Google, he started his own company to explore computer programming for robots and other machines.

media coverageSo let’s think about the bigger picture. Can most drivers get better mileage than a computer? If not, could it pay itself off in fuel savings? If the technology becomes available in say, ten years, would cities replace their bus drivers with robots? Taxis? There’s also a not-so-small issue of safety. Even if the system is safer than a road-raging speed demon, changes in road conditions will still occur with accidents and/or construction. How will every other Pribot know to avoid an obstacle ahead? Suddenly small debris in the road, which any person could easily see and avoid, becomes a big issue.

But if given a choice without exorborent cost, I would definitely give a future version of the Pribot a try, so long as I’m allowed to take over if I so choose. Would you? Let us know, leave a comment below.

Quotes and images via Declan McCullagh‘s article on CNET.

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About the Author

is an environmentalist who loves to write. She grew up across the southeastern USA and especially love the Appalachian mountains. She went to school in the northeast USA in part to witness different mindsets and lifestyles than those of my southern stomping grounds. She majored in English Lit. and Anthropology. She has worked as a whitewater rafting guide, which introduced her to a wilderness and the complex issues at play in the places where relatively few people go. She also taught English in South Korea for a year, which taught her to take nothing for granted.

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