While science and technology breakthroughs normally are associated with curing diseases or answering man's never-ending questions about space, could it also provide a remedy for perhaps the most frustrating problem facing many working Americans?
Last month, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) selected autonomous vehicles as "the most promising form of intelligent transportation, anticipating that they will account for up to 75 percent of cars on the road by the year 2040." That was followed just weeks later by California -- perhaps the most traffic-ridden state in the country -- becoming just the third state behind Nevada and Florida to legalize self-driving cars.
The state's governor, Jerry Brown, took a ride in Google's self-driving car before signing the new legislation and proclaiming the bill as "turning today's science fiction into tomorrow's reality."
That approaching reality will be a topic at The Atlantic's Big Science Summit, which will be held in San Jose, CA on Oct. 30. Chris Gerdes, director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford (CARS), will be part of a session to discuss the future of transportation and self-driving cars.
Gerdes' team currently is collaborating with Volkswagen to produce a self-driving Audi, nicknamed "Shelley." Other manufacturers, such as General Motors' Cadillac division and BMW, also are developing self-driving car concepts, while Google is creating a fleet of fully autonomous Toyota Prius hybrids.
The IEEE said once these concepts become reality for drivers, such vehicles may not just lower stress levels among commuters, but also spark dramatic changes in intersections, traffic flows, highways and even the need for drivers' licenses.
"Intersections will be equipped with sensors, cameras and radars that can monitor and control traffic flow to help eliminate driver collisions and promote a more efficient flow of traffic. The cars will be operating automatically, thereby eliminating the need for traffic lights," said Dr. Alberto Broggi, IEEE senior member and professor of computer engineering at the University of Parma in Italy.
Broggi added that with new infrastructure and traffic flow, coupled with the increase of automated travel, cars will be able to travel faster safely -- perhaps as fast as 100 miles-per-hour without endangering lives.
Broggi is no stranger to autonomous vehicles. He directed a 2010 project where two driver-less cars completed an 8,000-mile road trip, traveling from Parma to Shanghai.
As with many advancements, the biggest obstacle may not be in the engineering aspect, but in public acceptance.
"Drivers and passengers are hesitant to believe in the technology enough to completely hand over total control," said Jeffrey Miller, IEEE member and associate professor in the computer systems engineering department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. "Car manufacturers have already started to incorporate automated features ... Over the next 28 years, use of more automated technologies will spark a snowball effect of acceptance and driver-less vehicles will dominate the road."