Cars were a big deal at CES in Las Vegas this year, as they transform from metal boxes with big engines into consumer electronics. Nissan was there with a vision of driving in 2040, “a revolutionary landscape where the automobile is further connected with people than ever before.” According to Martin Hislop of Designboom,
The Japanese-automaker insists intelligent mobility is not about removing humans from the driving experience. Instead, it’s about building a better future for people where cars are their partners, and where drivers are more confident and more connected. It’s vision is to advance mobility forward with these technologies toward a zero-emission, zero-fatality future on the roads.
But the video tells a different story and raises some questions about our wonderful future.
The first one is, where is everybody? They ask us to imagine a connected world free of traffic, but where did it all go? If they are referring to the fact that there will be a lot fewer cars because they are shared, not owned, that misses the point. There will be a lot fewer cars because they are not parked, they are working all the time; that means there will be just as many cars on the road at any given time, if not more because so many are running around without drivers, doing deliveries. They may pack a few more in because they can be closer together, but that might just make the roads seem even more crowded.
There won't be any red lights because as we have noted before, autonomous vehicles (AVs) know where all the other cars are and can just flow through intersections. But I see there are still lights and signals for the pedestrians and segway riders; I suppose we now know that Nissan imagines a future where cars have right of way and the rest of us wait.
The car is particularly generous to cyclists, actually waiting until the cyclist has passed instead of turning left on top of her, how sweet. The driver even bows.
It is easier to imagine no fatalities when there are no pedestrians and really, almost no cars. The whole video reminds me of the old post-nuclear war movie On the Beach, where Gregory Peck sails his sub into San Francisco to find that nobody is there, all killed by fallout.
The whole video is science fiction, where we imagine a world with smooth wide empty roads, no pesky pedestrians, no red lights, and the only green you see is in the median in the middle of the road. Planners and designers have to make some tough decisions about how the self-driving car will work in our cities, and whether we should have cars at all. But try as I might, I cannot imagine a single vision expressed in this video actually coming true. Well, perhaps not killing the cyclist, although I am not a hundred percent sure about that.