Scientist Christoph Mertz at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University agrees. He says 3M’s prowess in road markings is no guarantee of a lucrative future from self-driving cars.
“I do think that lane markings are very important,” he said. “But it could be that we find a technology and it’s not important anymore.”
Cost may be an issue. The U.S. Transportation Department recently estimated taxpayers need to spend $90 billion a year just to maintain roads in their current condition. Mertz says maintenance needs may trump upgrading street marking.
“The issue is money,” he said. “I think the rating is like a ‘D’ right now for our road infrastructure. What do you do first? Fill the potholes and then do the lane markings?”
But Mertz said the advent of self-driving cars could bring tremendous benefits. People wouldn’t need a personal car, and that would mean less pollution, less land tied up with garages, parking lots and ramps, and fewer highway deaths.
“Thirty thousand people every year die on our roads,” he said. “Once there’s an alternative, I don’t think it’s acceptable.”