Driverless vehicle is a glimpse into Atlanta’s transit future


Driverless vehicles could transform your commute, create and eliminate jobs and put thorny ethical decisions — run down a pedestrian to save yourself? — in the hands of an algorithm.

And they’re coming to Atlanta in the not-too-distant future.

On Thursday, advocates for driverless vehicles showed off the technology at a performing arts center in Austell near Six Flags Over Georgia. The future appeared as a modest 12-passenger bus that ferried riders around a parking lot at 8 mph.

But don’t be fooled. Advocates say driverless — they prefer “autonomous” — vehicles could be the most disruptive transportation innovation since Henry Ford’s assembly line made the automobile the lifeblood of the American economy.

“It will fundamentally change the way people live, work and play,” said Paul Brubaker, CEO of the Alliance for Transportation Innovation, a trade group that sponsored Thursday’s show and tell.

Just a few years ago, driverless vehicles seemed like part of some distant science-fiction future. But companies such as Google and Tesla already are testing them on the road. Ford recently announced it will sell self-driving vehicles by 2025, with autonomous taxis coming sooner.

Transportation experts and city officials already are figuring how the vehicles will fit into existing transit systems and streetscapes.

In September, Atlanta will host a driverless vehicle demonstration as part of the city’s efforts to create a “smart corridor” on North Avenue from Georgia Tech to the Ponce City Market. Faye DiMassimo, general manager of the city’s Renew Atlanta and TSPLOST programs, said the vehicles could reduce traffic accidents and congestion in the area.

Chris Tomlinson, executive director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, said driverless vehicles could become part of the agency’s commuter bus system. Though GRTA likely would retain its traditional fleet of coaches for commuter runs, driverless vehicles could ferry riders to their final destination once they get off a bus, he said.

Widespread use of such vehicles could dramatically improve the speed and safety of your commute, advocates say.

Brubaker said 35,000 people die in auto accidents in the United States each year, and 94 percent of those accidents are caused by human error. Remove the human driver and you remove the error, he said.

John Orr, who tackles transportation issues for the Atlanta Regional Commission, said about 45 percent of Atlanta’s famously awful traffic congestion is caused by accidents.

“This could have a very positive impact over the long term,” Orr said.

Like any disruptive technology, though, there’s potential bad to go with the good. While driverless vehicles could be a boon for disabled or elderly residents who can’t drive, a lot of people who drive for a living could find themselves unemployed.

Then there are those ethical dilemmas. Suppose you’re speeding along and a pedestrian walks out in front of you. You could swerve to avoid him and hit a utility pole, possibly injuring or killing yourself. Or you could plow into the pedestrian and save yourself.

If your car is controlled by a computer, that decision is out of your hands. How will it respond? Researchers are trying to answer such questions.

There are plenty of other hurdles to overcome before driverless vehicles hit the road en masse. Regulators must ensure the vehicles are safe. New laws must sort out issues such as who gets blamed when autonomous vehicles are involved in accidents. And the public will have to be convinced they’re safe and dependable.

Xavier Salort, senior sales manager for EasyMile, the company that makes the vehicle demonstrated Thursday, believes those hurdles can be overcome.

“The bottom line is, if it’s safe, cheap and people can rely on it, people don’t care (whether it has a driver),” Salort said.

And he said it might not be a bad thing to take those ethical dilemmas out of the hands of people.

“When it comes to a drunk driver, you know what decision he’s going to make,” Salort said.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Rev. Jesse Jackson sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church to address government shutdown
Rev. Jesse Jackson sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church to address government shutdown

The Rev. Jesse Jackson — a confidante of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. and who was with King as he was shot and killed on the balcony the Lorraine Motel in Memphis — will preach from King's pulpit during the 11:30 am service Sunday. The visit comes in honor of observing the 50th anniversary of "The Poor People's...
Firemen: Child igniting paper on space heater starts fire at Orlando apartment complex
Firemen: Child igniting paper on space heater starts fire at Orlando apartment complex

At least 48 people were displaced after a fire at a Florida apartment complex Saturday morning, the Orlando Fire Department said.  Firefighters said no one was injured in the fire that broke out at the Windsor Cove apartments in Orlando around 10 a.m. Fire investigators said a child igniting paper on a space heater caused the blaze....
Filing taxes? Here's how a government shutdown impacts the process
Filing taxes? Here's how a government shutdown impacts the process

Millions of Americans are ready to file their 1040s when the tax season opens Jan. 29 , but will the Internal Revenue service be open to process them? And how long will it take to get a refund? When Congress failed to agree on a funding bill early Saturday, the U.S. government officially ran out of money for the fiscal year and shut down, triggering...
Q&A on the News

Q: Would you please print the Constitution’s 25th Amendment? — Carl Morris, Douglas A: “1. In case of the removal of the president from office or of his death or resignation, the vice president shall become president. 2. Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the vice president, the president shall nominate a vice president...
Fulton County restaurant inspection scores

Fulton County • Doraku Sushi Buckhead, 262 Buckhead Ave., Atlanta. 100/A • Rubello’s Pizza, 8420 Senoia Road, Fairburn. 90/A • Sushi Nami Too, 5610 Glenridge Drive, Atlanta. 91/A • Tap, 1180 Peachtree St., Atlanta. 100/A • Tavern at J.R. Crickets, 3560 Camp Creek Parkway, East Point. 70/C
More Stories