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Introducing ‘Fordite’

Old things make good jewelry, be they antique watch fobs, chips of Mayan ruins, or gemstones forged through the eons. Not everything old is ancient, however. The website Colossal recently ran a piece on “Fordite,” otherwise known as Detroit agate, a brightly colored, prehistoric seeming, rock-like remnant of the city’s auto industry. Before robots, all of Detroit’s cars were spray painted by hand, and some of that paint inevitably dripped onto the metal racks that carried cars from the paint shop into the kiln, where it baked alongside newly minted Corvairs and Coronets. The paint accumulated in layers over time—mostly black and brown in the drab 1940s, more colorfully in the spectral ’60s. Today, in the age of tidy automation, Fordite can be cut and polished, and set in sterling silver—a relic, like the tomb at Chernobyl, of a place that went extinct before its time.

Driverless cars, trickling onto a road near you

Google’s new videoof its latest driverless car prototype set off a frenzy of speculation about what a future filled with driverless cars would look like. Will there be less traffic, or will people “drive” more? How would laws adapt? Will career truck drivers be replaced by operating systems?

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It’s easy to think about the arrival of driverless cars in a binary way—either we live in that kind of world, or we don’t. But a recent article in the MIT Technology Review offered a reminder that progress toward a driverless car society is likely to be incremental, and in many ways it’s already upon us.

The article was about technology being developed by a startup called Peloton Tech, that allows pairs of tractor-trailers to “platoon” (drive in close tandem) and find platooning partners on the go, reducing wind resistance and cutting down on fuel costs. In a recent demonstration outside Reno, two semis drove along Interstate 80 separated by just 10 meters, outfitted with radar sensors and connected wirelessly. (A human driver steered the rear truck, while the system controlled its speed.)

Driverless cars are currently illegal on public roads, but technology like Peloton could be deployed today—from a regulatory perspective, it’s similar to the existing technology of adaptive cruise control, which regulates speed and following distance. Driverless cars are certainly an innovation to be reckoned with, but that reckoning is likely to come in stages. You won’t wake up tomorrow to find the roads swarming with Google cars, but there may come a morning when your car is driving you to work, and you look around and remember, “things didn’t used to be like this.”

Kevin Hartnett is a writer in South Carolina. He can be reached at kshartnett18@gmail.com.
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