The DARPA Challenge
Wired has a defense-related blog called Danger Room. I've been following the lead up to the DARPA challenge, a contest pitting robotic vehicles against each other on a real world road course. The DoD has an interest in this, because if they're able to develop robotic vehicles that can operate unassisted, they do not need vulnerable humans behind the wheel and exposed to IEDs.
But as we all know, cutting edge technology trickles down into civilian applications. How would you feel about sharing the road with a robotic bus or delivery truck? I haven't seen anything about how these systems react to pedestrians or cyclists, and I certainly wouldn't want to be the cyclist who tests whether it can reliably detect and avoid us.
But rest assured, if the costs come down as they always do, these systems will be used to get rid of those pesky humans (and their unions) who operate trucks and buses.
Urban Challenge Bots Ready to Race on Saturday
By Michael Belfiore
...The robot cars--all stock vehicles outfitted with laser range finders, cameras and other sensors, and crammed full of computers--will line up on the starting line early tomorrow morning, and take off at 8:00 a.m. on perhaps the strangest auto race ever.
The cars will all have to obey a 30-mile-per-hour speed limit, will have to stop at intersections, signal their turns, and obey all California traffic laws. And absolutely no one will be driving--not by remote control, and certainly not in the driver's seats.
Along with the robots will be 50 brave souls wearing crash helmets and driving Ford Tauruses to provide circulating traffic for the robots, whose purpose is to test the technologies for fully autonomous vehicles. The Pentagon wants robots to drive convoys in Iraq.
...For complete race coverage, keep your browser pointed right here at the Danger Room. Also look for DARPA's webcast at http://www.darpa.mil/grandchallenge/.