How to Make Cars Cooperate

THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, 9 NOVEMBER 2017, FEAT. PROF. BRYANT WALKER SMITH:

IN HIS 31-YEAR career delivering frozen patties, ketchup packets, ice cream and such to McDonald’s, Baskin-Robbins and other restaurants across the country, Dave Mercer logged more than three million miles, many of them in rigs he termed “bad news”: boxy, twin-stick-shift trucks that belched smoke and had no heating, air conditioning or radio. But they were sleek compared with the 18-wheelers his father drove before he was born. His father used to say that going uphill he could walk faster than his load; sometimes he would stand out on the running board to cool off and steer one-handed through his open door. “You’re not going to stop technology,” Mercer told me, when I asked him why he had decided to finish his professional life by test-driving trucks full time for a four-year-old Silicon Valley start-up. We were standing on the side of I-280 in Mountain View, Calif.; Mercer, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and dark glasses, had just finished demonstrating a system that a company called Peloton Technology plans to introduce in commercial fleets next year. “I wanted to come over and be a part of this before I retired,” he said. “I can tell some of the younger drivers. … ” In lieu of finishing his thought, he punched his co-pilot, a quiet computer engineer, in the shoulder. Hundreds of hours riding shotgun with Mercer — panoramic views of the horizon, cars flowing streamlike down below — had inspired him and several of the company’s other engineers to get a commercial driver’s license. “I want to be part of that, too,” Mercer said.

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