Imagine getting picked up at your front door every morning, enjoying a cup of coffee and checking email while you cruise to work. Along the way, you stop to pick up another rider or two headed in the same direction. Your route is carefully calculated to get you to the office with minimum time sitting in traffic. And you don’t have to plan or organize any of it, because your taxi drives itself.
It may sound crazy, but Princeton researcher Alain Kornhauser envisions a world where cities are equipped with self-driving taxis that are always available and combine the convenience of not having to drive with the cost savings of not having to maintain a car or pay a driver. What’s more, self-driving vehicles are considered less likely to get in traffic accidents than those with humans at the controls.
Autonomous Taxi Research
An article on ExtremeTech.com reports that Kornhauser came up with the idea for autonomous taxis, or aTaxis, after he and his students studied traffic patterns in New Jersey. Using census and other data, they assigned each of New Jersey’s residents and out-of-state commuters a place of work or school. Then they mapped the trips each might take on any given day – more than 30 million daily trips total. Their mapping showed the origin and destination of each trip and how long the trip took.
The researchers overlaid their map with a fleet of aTaxis, to see how things would look if the taxis did the driving instead. Based on this research, they estimate that aTaxis could cut the number of vehicles on the road by half, reducing congestion and parking hassles and freeing up land currently occupied by parking lots.
Public transit systems could also benefit from aTaxis. The driverless cars might replace underused bus routes, providing transportation service at a lower cost than a traditional bus. And in places like New Jersey that are served by commuter rail lines, aTaxis could provide an easy way for commuters to get to the train station, saving them the hassle and expense of parking there.
In addition to aTaxis, Kornhauser imagines people owning their own self-driving cars and renting them out when they’re not in use. A person could have her car drive her to work and then, instead of sitting idle in a parking lot all day, the car would zip around town, taking other people to school, work and shopping before picking the owner up at the end of her work day.
The success of an aTaxi system at reducing the number of cars on the road and relieving congestion depends on people’s willingness to share rides with others, often on an impromptu basis. The aTaxi researchers concluded that people are more willing to rideshare, like splitting the cost of an Uber ride at rush hour, when the convenience of not having to drive in traffic outweighs the inconvenience of ride sharing – assuming that sharing would not add more than 20 percent to the length of a trip.
Of course, the whole idea depends on vehicles that are truly autonomous and don’t need a driver, so it isn’t likely to happen soon. In the meantime, a knowledgeable car accident attorney may be able to help if you’re involved in a car accident caused by another driver.