With a sensor suite that was advanced and comprehensive enough, such a car could understand its surroundings and maneuver through dangerous traffic scenarios. With highly developed artificial intelligence, that car could also "read" road signs and traffic signals and comprehend less explicit contextual elements, to make sure it obeyed the rules of the road.
In theory, a "blind" vehicle that was fully connected could also travel without incident. If every automobile on the road were equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology, they could "talk" to one another and communicate their position and intentions, giving each car a complete understanding of the ones surrounding it.
With complete vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology, a central intelligence system could also establish safe, efficient traffic patterns and guide cars accordingly.
All of the technology described above exists in some form right now, although it is not in an advanced enough state to be ready for public rollout. But the two distinct categories -- autonomous and connected -- account for the bulk of the work being done in the automotive space right now. And, as Kim Tingley writes in The New York Times Magazine, the two principles are naturally opposed to one another.
"Ultimately, these two types of systems will have to complement each other, yet neither can be implemented all at once," Tingley writes. "In the meantime, the process of developing and deploying them often puts them at odds. Indeed, the two systems are, in a sense, philosophically opposed: libertarian self-reliance in a race with socialist collectivity to be the first to improve traffic flow."
Tingley's feature, "How to Make Cars Cooperate," is one of several that considers the future of automotives in the Times Magazine's Tech & Design issue. She takes a deep dive on V2V connectivity, a concept with implementation that could be just as society-changing as autonomy, but also one that is far less known and understood. As Tingley points out, the way in which V2V will succeed is opposite to that of autonomy.
"Automation thrives in the absence of regulation; V2V depends on it," she writes. "Without federal help, however, the upfront cost of connected infrastructure can be prohibitive for small towns and cities."
Autonomous vehicle manufacturers are getting plenty of help from the feds -- both House and Senate bills promoting widespread expansion of AV testing have found overwhelming support this year. Conversely, reports emerged that the Trump administration plans to set aside a V2V mandate for auto manufacturers that was proposed at the end of the Obama administration.
Government officials made repeated denials that they had made such a decision in the days following the reports. Regardless, it remains clear that V2V advancement faces an uphill challenge before it becomes widely accepted and adopted in the US. But its implementation could be enormously helpful in providing a substantial counterbalance to the tools of autonomous vehicles.