Developments to Watch
JAPAN WANTS TO REPLACE EVEN THE DRIVER WITH A CHIP
In Japan, where 123 million people are crammed into a space the size of Montana, traffic can be a nightmare. So the Tokyo government wants to make highways and vehicles not just "smart" but autonomous--with computers taking the wheel when traffic gets tough.
Japan's Advanced Road Transportation System is no more advanced than research in the U.S. and Europe, but the Japanese seem far more eager to discuss the ultimate outcome: cars that rebel against human drivers to become cogs in a mass-transit machine. Researchers at Japan's Construction Ministry expect the first step--an alarm system that warns drivers of hazards such as tailgating--to go into testing around 1997. By the year 2000, Japan will test automatic braking and steering in emergencies. And by 2010, it will begin testing automatic driving. Japan's goal is international standards that will make autonomous cars mandatory in urban areas by the middle of the next century.EDITED BY RUTH COXETER