If you drive up the M6 between Junction 11 and 14 you’ll see how this particular stretch of motorway is being converted to a “managed” road. What this means is that cameras will be fitted along the motorway and your speed will be tightly monitored and controlled. It also means that, at certain times, you can use the hard shoulder. A similar setup is in operation on the M42 and it basically allows more vehicles to fit on the road.
However, at the moment there’s cones and a strict 50mph speed limit which is controlled by average speed cameras. Now, apart from the odd fool who thinks that braking at each camera will somehow stop the system working out their average speed, it’s a mad slow-speed overtaking game as cars try to out-pace each other at 51mph or 52mph. It can be annoying to sit at 50, but the truth is that we’ll all be doing one set speed when the system is complete.
On Monday I sat there, doing exactly 50 on the cruise control and pointing the car dead straight. It was utterly boring, and due to the straightness of the road and the fact that other cars are doing the same speed, it made me wonder if all this could be automated somehow. Why are we using the hard shoulder for extra cars? Why not put a big car-park at each junction and then have driverless pods up the hard shoulder? When we reach the required junction we could simply hop onto a bike, bus, train or a pool-car system to get to our destination?
It might sound like science fiction but a low-speed version already operates at Heathrow Terminal 5, and has done for a couple of years now…
Yes. I know what you’re thinking. I perhaps was thinking too much into this. Perhaps I was a little too bored during that journey. Perhaps I was day-dreaming, but I see it daily. The new HS2 rail-line didn’t really take into account of work people do on the train with laptops and iPads. People are making use of that “downtime”.
However, as the Heathrow example has already shown. Driverless pods aren’t that far-fetched and, especially in a more crowded environment like a city, they can help to get people from A to B easily – all whilst you surf the web, check your email and do other work online. Milton Keynes has invested £1.5 million into a project to bring 20 driverless pods / cars to the city by 2015.
Running on their own special lanes, you pay £2 to travel at 12mph across the town. A special smartphone app will let you book and pay for journeys, plus it’ll let you know when your pod has arrived.
To be honest, I think that schemes like this should be extended. In my local area we have miles and miles of disused railway lines that are now overgrown and used as cycle routes. We have one just half a mile from my house that goes directly to Birmingham in a fairly straight line, but it lies there getting overgrown and used by me and a few other cyclists per week. Why not put these driveless pods on there? The bridges, the infrastructure, the direct route – it’s all there. Just waiting for the technology to arrive.