We know the driverless cars are coming, with promise of making roads safer and eliminating traffic woes. But what will life be like for the last of us left on the road driving the old-fashioned way, Vin Diesel style?
It may breed chaos, at least according to Error-Prone, a free, online game which puts you behind the wheel of any one of 26 driverless cars that’s circling a tree.
Developed by the Swedish game accelerator Stugan and the Swedish Transport Administration, your only challenge is to handle the accelerator. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll break through the marching orders of the hive mind in about 0.3 seconds, smash into another car, and more or less repeat the process until a wide enough gap has been cleared to drive somewhat normally.
The game is a very simple proof of how on the roads, the human equation is so much more dangerous than the robotic one. And one could imagine how much worse the ripple effects of erratic driving patterns would be, were Error-Prone being simulated on a true, city grid. The consequences of a hard brake or acceleration wouldn’t just affect this one circle of cars; it would potentially spread through blocks, destroying any efficiency the robots brought us in the first place.
Even this basic simulation makes the case that we’ll need all sorts of designed interventions in place as more robots take the road. It won’t be enough for them just to avoid us because if we want to drive on traffic-less streets, the human cars will need some level of automation, too. Some have already suggested that a human car might kick into autonomous modes within certain city limits. Error-Prone’s repeated accidents make an excellent case as to why that might be necessary.
Of course, it’s not a total dystopian future for those who love to drive. Because as most of us at Co.Design noticed in our play-throughs, once you carve out your own pocket (by destroying enough autonomous cars), you can pretty much drive however you want, and the parade of perfect, safe drives will be forced to march in response to your will. For the last of the human drivers, the world might not be so oppressive. It could be a Fast & Furious playground, where crazy drivers can drive crazy with complete impunity. That is, until inevitable safety legislation pulls the wheels from all of our fleshy hands.