In our future as envisioned by IBM in a new patent application, you pull up to a red light with several cars in front of you. A traffic computer spots you via camera or GPS signal or perhaps a buried detector loop. It then calculates how long it will be before you can proceed, compares the amount of gas you would burn idling against the gas you would burn if you turned off your car and restarted it when the traffic was moving again. If the latter would use less gas, it would remotely turn off your car for you, then start it again when the coast was clear.
No, this is not from George Orwell's 1984, but IBM's 2010. The company's patent application claims that such a system could save the country a great deal of gasoline. It might also reduce pollution, although no such claim is made in the application.
Add this to other ways computers are already at work at intersections:
- Monitoring and photographing cars that run red lights
- Checking and photographing license plates to make sure drivers are insured
- Checking license plates for stolen vehicles
- Photo radar to catch, photograph and ticket speeders
- Railroad crossing cameras to detect those sneaking around the gates
- In-pavement weight detectors and linked cameras to detect overweight trucks
- Cameras linked to toll booths to document toll outlaws
One company that offers all of these services, American Traffic Solutions, will also buy up a city's outstanding fines, unpaid parking fees and the like, giving them a lump sum cash payment, and attempt to collect the money owed themselves. (This is not, however, its core business, but an ancillary service.)
Perhaps car travel will be safer thanks to the computerized environment rapidly enveloping the American road. But remembering that computers do exactly what they are programmed to do, and that programming is done by human beings, I look at this development with some trepidation. Imagine the problems if we really had the flying cars envisioned by The Jetsons.