A little while back we had a pretty lively discussion about robots on our roads, but, even with the rapidly approaching technology, you still have a little time before the mass adoption of robotic vehicles makes every trip a chance to catch up on your sleep, but, near term, there may be some intermediate steps in the process and I think transponders will be among them. Just like the "motor vehicles only" signs of today, I can easily imagine "transponder equipped motor vehicles only" signs in the future.
Constant communication or get off the road
One of the keys to smooth operation with automated vehicles is knowing where all of the other vehicles are and what they're doing. Sensors and cameras can discover a lot, but it's even better if all of the vehicles are actively transmitting data. Airplanes do this now with flight transponders and the highway of the future may require the same of motor vehicles and it makes sense. When vehicles are merging on to the highway, leaving the highway, passing, braking and changing lanes all under computer control and trucks and other vehicles are hooked up in electronic "road trains," the thought of blasting through that digital parade on your human controlled and non transponder equipped Electra Glide may no longer be an option.
While reading through a Daimler press release about their "Highway Pilot" tech in the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025, I saw this:
The "Highway Pilot" is ideally partnered with V2V and V2I networking. Every vehicle equipped with this in the near future will transmit continuous information to its surroundings, the CAM (Corporate Awareness Message). The vehicle uses this to announce its presence. The information content includes vehicle position and model, dimensions, direction of travel and speed, any acceleration and braking manoeuvres and the bend radii negotiated.
The reference to V2V is vehicle to vehicle and V2I is vehicle to infrastructure communication. Although each manufacturer developing these technologies is likely doing it in their own way right now, I can envision a standard coming when the "Corporate Awareness Message" (Who comes up with Orwellian names like that?) will be in the same format for every vehicle and it will become possible to retrofit older vehicles with a transponder able to blend you into the traffic flow. If you want to ride the highway, it could easily become mandatory.
While part of me really loves all of this stuff, and fully autonomous vehicles are pretty cool, another part of me is going to miss the rebellious and totally free, self directed driving of today if it ever becomes a relic. Not long ago I thought a future like that was far enough away there would be no reason to worry, now I'm not so sure. Are you ready?
Image credits: Daimler