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The Practical Path To Driverless Cars

Publication Date: 
April 01, 2014
The Atlantic - Cities
Richard Morgan

CIS/CARS Fellow Bryant Walker Smith spoke with The Atlantic's Richard Morgan on the future of driverless cars and how Silicon Valley will need to "rethink" the way it rolls out technology to different audiences. 

I am not sure about this, but it's a pretty safe guess that Jason Bittner is mad at me. He drove to work because there were plenty of good reasons at the time for him to use the car to run afternoon errands: egg cartons to recycle at the supermarket, library books to return, and a consignment shop drop-off for the clothes his kids have outgrown. But then I showed up and made myself at home in his office, asking questions and not paying nearly enough respect to his indoor Green Bay Packers wind chime. It quickly became clear to him that none of his chores are going to get done. This is why Midwesterners think New Yorkers are rude, I guess.

Bittner is into "trip-chaining," he says, in his personal life as well as his professional one. His job is director at the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR, pronounced cutter, not cuter) — home, Bittner says, to the largest collection of full-time faculty studying public transportation in the country. That's 43 faculty researchers and about as many student-researchers, working on 180 projects, as well as a new division devoted entirely to driverless cars called the Autonomous Vehicle Institute, which Bittner was integral in developing. This is how far ahead CUTR plans: there are 23 saplings planted on the front lawn.


"Google has a lot of data from its fleet," says Bryant Walker Smith, resident fellow at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, who's written about the legality of autonomous cars. "But it's data that shows you how specially trained, highly educated, early-adopter types mostly in their 20s and 30s can navigate the roads of San Francisco, where it doesn't snow or flood or all these things, in cars that are much nicer and newer than the average American's car." Here again Florida — Tampa, especially — is primed as a practical test bed (minus the snow), with its sizable population of college students, English-as-a-second-language citizens and immigrants, senior citizens, and tourists.


"We won't be relying in the future on a solution we think up in 2015," says Smith. "Silicon Valley will have to rethink the way it rolls out technology — not just the approach, but also the audience."