America’s Highways Are Congested, and They Are Only 6 Percent Full

The Internet of Things could pave the way for congestion-free roads.

If you want to know how autonomous cars are going to transform cities, look no further than the vehicle in front of you. It’s probably about 20 feet in front of you, wasting precious surface area that, when compounded with the thousands of other cars and millions of square feet of highway, leads to massive congestion.

In addition to the obvious safety benefits — human error accounts for as much as 90 percent of all car accidents — autonomous cars will one day be smart enough to regulate traffic flow to prevent rush hour altogether. In crowded urban areas, this could lead to shorter commutes, less stress and reduced fuel consumption.

As evidenced by the onslaught of connected devices unveiled at CES this year and Google’s recent acquisition of Nest, the Internet of Things is slowly making its way into our personal lives and workplaces. Cars are an obvious target for tech companies since connecting them to a network and each other has so many palpable benefits.

To give you a better idea of how humans will use cars over the next 10, 20 or even 50 years, check out the video below, courtesy of Wired's Autopia blog. Sebastian Thrun — the Stanford professor, Udacity founder and leader of Google’s self-driving car project — offers a few very interesting examples of how cars will improve cities and leverage the highway infrastructure we have already built.

Thrun offers this stunning metric: “A peak capacity highway has only 6 percent cars on it. Ninety-four percent is the space between the cars that we need because we are human. We are not great drivers.”

There is so much room for improvement, according to Thrun. “Now imagine we fill the highway with cars and pack 50 percent of the surface. All of a sudden, we have almost no congestion.”

<p>Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images</p>
Jan 16 2014