Is the answer to a smooth, rush-hourless commute, free of road-rage as simple as ending car ownership? Computer scientists at the University of Texas think so.

As our cities and populations continue to grow, the realities of limited auto-opportunistic travel are quickly becoming apparent and the stress cracks and fractures of overtaxed infrastructures are already showing in all major cities. From multi-hour gridlocks to astronomical parking fees.

The key to not owning a car is ensuring the benefit of owning one close at hand – It’s a convenience the first world is not going to part with easily. When it comes to autonomous driving models, the technology is already here, it’s just a matter of getting the infrastructure in place to manage it. And when things work as they should it will not only be like you have a car, it will be like each member in your family has a car.

The key to the whole thing is that you won’t be driving.

In a world where no one owns a car and the traffic manages itself, we no longer need to rely on infantile ‘rules of the road’ – Traffic will be free to weave and and intertwine itself wherever it needs. Much like the murmuration of Starlings, scientists can leverage swarm physics to develop a much more robust and fluid traffic dynamic:

I would imagine that you just need to create an account with FutureTransit™, then log the times and dates you need travel with your mobile device. Your spouse and/or children could do the same. Then – Just like a taxi, it would pick you up at the door and charge for a combination of the amount of kilometers travelled, and by time spent in the vehicle. There could also be surcharges or levy’s for peak times (ie. rush hour, etc.), but ultimately if you have a four person household headed in four different directions, leaving at four different times, you’re set!

“The technology is pretty much already there,” says Peter Stone, a computer scientist at the University of Texas at Austin. And this was also the jarring promise of Tom Vanderbilt’s recentprofile of the autonomous car in Wired. “But the question is when will it be cost-effective? When will the legal industry wrap its head around it, and the insurance industry, and when will people buy into it? I don’t know when it will actually happen. But the potential advantages are so huge that it has to happen eventually.”


Now, I’m not going to lie. As a cyclist, the intersection in that video scares the living shit out of me – There would either need to be some logic built into things to account for “free radicals” like cyclists and pedestrians, or potentially a truly self contained lane/routing for non-autonomous traffic. But the idea of being ‘car free’ without losing the convenience of owning an actual vehicle is an attractive one.

Of course, you could simply ride a bike to work and end your traffic woes today ;-)