Are self-driving cars the solution to Gardens’ traffic headaches?


Highlights

Google’s Waymo dropped the price of technology from $150,000 in 2011 to $7,500 in 2017.

“The more vehicles you have that are self-driving, the less traffic you have,” Richard Brockway said.

Imagine getting to the office in the morning and starting your day unscathed by the frustration of the commute — no gridlock, no honking, no being on the receiving end of a third-finger salute.

This is the future Richard Brockway sees as imminent, once self-driving cars hit the road. He doubled down Wednesday on his prediction such cars could roll out in South Florida as early as next year, citing swift advances Google has made in its technology in the 15 months since he last spoke at the North County Neighborhood Coalition’s breakfast at The Club at Ibis.

Brockway and his partners Google car adviser Larry Burns and former Gov. Jeb Bush formed Maghicle Driverless in 2013 to pave the way for a system of shared, driverless cars. The system would at least cut in half what drivers spend on car upkeep and insurance, Brockway said.

He had a good crowd Wednesday, one that was full of homeowners association presidents, elected officials and business leaders all too familiar with traffic congestion caused by growth in the north end.

In fact, several candidates during the run up to the Palm Beach Gardens City Council election pointed to the potential of self-driving cars/technology as part of the solution to traffic from growth out west.

I was (and still am) skeptical they’ll eliminate the need for road projects, but Brockway convinced me during his talk and further conversation Thursday that autonomous cars will at least put a dent in the problem.

Consider:

- Google’s Waymo dropped the price of technology from $150,000 in 2011 to $7,500 in 2017.

- A blind man rode, alone, around Austin, Texas, in Google’s autonomous car last year.

- Florida lawmakers last year passed a bill that legalized fully autonomous vehicles on public roads without a driver.

Brockway didn’t ignore the fact that Florida also has the dubious distinction of the first fatality involving a self-driving car. Josh Brown, 40, died when his Tesla on autopilot crashed into a tractor-trailer that turned left in front of it because the car’s camera failed to recognize the white truck against the bright sky.

Brockway rejects the “evolutionary” approach car manufacturers and Uber have taken, simply adding self-driving options to a standard car. He said he finds the term autopilot “dangerous and misleading.”

Google decided it was autonomous or nothing, he said.

Their cars have a triple redundant system. If the cars malfunction, they could pull to the side of the road or go to the nearest gas or police station, where a replacement is dispatched to meet the passenger.

The cars have cameras that offer a 360-degree view and a system that perceives depth, plus a light detection and ranging system that creates a 3D moving picture of everything that’s happening. If some are slow to buy in, the autonomous cars are designed to operate on normal roads with faulty human drivers.

As more and more are released, though, the safer the roads will be for all drivers, Brockway said.

But will they really help with traffic jams?

Brockway says yes, offering his own example of a driver that caused a huge traffic jam on Northlake Boulevard by crossing three lanes of through-traffic to turn onto Military Trail.

“The more vehicles you have that are self-driving, the less traffic you have. Traffic is generally caused by people not knowing what they’re doing.”



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