Wednesday could be a very interesting day for House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa. He is taking a 30-mile ride in a car that drives itself. The route from suburban Cranberry, Pa., to Pittsburgh International Airport includes multiple intersections, low-speed single-lane roads, and high-speed highway traffic with complex traffic lights.
How is this possible? Through a driverless car being developed at Carnegie Mellon University. Shuster probably wants one, considering that he has to make the drive from Washington to his hometown of Hollidaysburg, Pa., at least once a week. (He says it's two hours and 40 minutes with no traffic.)
But, of course, Shuster may rethink the whole driverless concept when he sees the giant "Emergency Stop" red button where the car radio should be. He shouldn't worry, though. A "dulcet female voice" will tell him exactly what is going on, according to a description of the car from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Shuster will be riding with Barry Schoch, Pennsylvania's transportation secretary, to highlight the need to maintain innovation in transportation in the United States. That's a noble goal for the transportation guru of Congress to express. But at the press conference afterward, expect most of the questions to go to the engineers who designed the car at the CMU-General Motors Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Lab. Does it honk in traffic? Can it parallel park? When can I get one?
The current version is a 2011 Cadillac SRX equipped with four computers, multiple sensors, radars, lasers, and of course GPS. The engineers say 90 percent of all car accidents are caused by human error, such as distracted driving, sleepiness, or drunkenness. Don't forget just plain stupidity. A car that drives itself, presumably, has nothing better to do than get you to your destination while you text your sweetie or put on your makeup.
Of course, it's probably going to be 10 years or more before such vehicles are available commercially. But we can only dream.
There's no word yet on whether Shuster will be in the driver's seat or riding shotgun.
This article appears in the September 3, 2013, edition of NJ Daily.