Give Way

“Okay, let’s go over how the traffic priority controls work. You can up-priority by paying a small fee, with a promise to pay more if your higher priority becomes relevant. The fee goes to us, the later charges to every vehicle that’s inconvenienced by yours. Or you can down-priority, which is free, but nets you a small payment every time the road-grid can pick you to ‘lose’ rather than another vehicle.

“But people don’t understand how the vehicle priority algorithm works underneath.

“It doesn’t affect vehicle speed, or routing, or any such. We can’t run vehicles efficiently at multiple speeds over the same roads, after all. No, what the traffic priority setting does is affect the way the road-grid handles resource-contention decisions where two vehicles require the same resource – odoblock, say – simultaneously, and resolving this deadlock require that one vehicle be selected to ‘lose’, which we define as a set of parameters including increased travel time, increased travel cost, vector changes outside the passenger comfort envelope, user preference deviations, and so forth. In those cases, the lowest priority ‘loses’, and where multiple vehicles share the same priority, a random function decides the loser.

“That’s a simplification, but it’s close enough to true. It’s most visible with emergency response vehicles, which naturally have a hard-coded top priority, but if you carefully study the patterns of traffic around some other vehicles over time, you can see the algorithm at work. Sleeper cars and fragile cargoes, for example, have their comfort envelopes weighted higher so other vehicles ‘lose’ to them when a maneuver is required. Bulk freight without deadlines is usually deprioritized for the potential savings, so statistically speaking, robotrucks ‘lose’ more than regular traffic.

“So why do people think that these don’t do anything?

“Well, how often do you think the road-grid system needs to make resource-contention decisions?”

– Eimil Murianos, odocorp engineer, IBC live interview

An Unlikely Recruit

“Prospect 33/1, getaway driver… getaway driver?”


“I understand why we’re reviewing these… work histories, but why are we interested in a getaway driver?”

The senior ironmonger steepled his fingers and leaned back in his chair; the other rolled his eyes.

“Consider, my dear Sulcis, just what is involved in practicing the gentle art of getaway driving in this modern age. First, one must be a good enough hardware engineer to bypass the many and various safety systems on your flitter designed to prevent it from maneuvering in any of the ways which one might wish to maneuver during your getaway. Likewise, you must also be a good enough software engineer to write your own drive-manager for said flitter, which not only avoids the software safeties, but emulates them – and the rest of the optimal safe style – well enough to fool everyone into thinking that all’s well when you aren’t being pursued.

“And you must achieve all of this while bypassing the road-grid – which otherwise would simply order your flitter to lock its doors and deliver you to the constabulary – by either stealthing or spoofing. In the former case, you need to have written a drive-manager that can somehow deal with the unfortunate consequences of the road-grid perceiving you as an invisible hole – or rather, a motile obstruction to be cleared away by emergency response – and in the latter case, to pretend to be multiple vehicles without tripping a trouble-flag, and should you fail at that, handling the attempts to take remote control of your vehicle via the road-grid interface, or to switch to stealthing and disable the grid interface in mid-flight without tripping any of those safety systems. Either of these options is very likely to involve an uncomfortable amount of updating code on the fly without crashing. Literally, and literally.

“Possibly while dodging flak, foam, and EMPs.”

Sulcis frowned. “So they have to be good, but you could say the same about –”

“For values of good equal to gods-kissed technical geniuses whom we want working for us only slightly more than MinTrans and the odocorps want them interrogated, patched, and probably shot, yes.”


Trope-a-Day: Futuristic Superhighway

Futuristic Superhighway: Well, now.  They have lots of those.  Apart from a few changes in materials, most of them look much like roads everywhere; the differences come in the technology buried in the road, such as the built-in power grid that lets vehicles recharge as they drive, and warms the road in winter to melt snow and ice, the road-grid that provides automated traffic management and routing (in cities and on the main routes, no-one drives on manual), the data connectivity, and the accompanying smart-road nodes that let the road itself provide you with local information and geosocial data.

While cargo delivery is mostly done at or below ground level (by wheeled – well, sphered, for ease of maneuvering in urban spaces – vehicles, even), the most common personal vehicle is the four-to-six-person vector-control flitter, a “flying car”; and while a fair few of them mingle with the freight traffic at ground level, even more are herded into the flyways at various heights above the highways to take them wherever they wish to go, all delineated by augmented-reality signs and guides (and, in urban areas, by actual building spars holding support hardware.

Oddly enough, while there is a lot more traffic than there used to be, the roads really aren’t that much wider, which is a combination of so much traffic being shunted into flyways above the highways, and of the road-grid automation letting cars pack much more closely together, when needed, than merely biological reflexes would support with the same safety margins.

And, of course, some changes in road features; the embarkation loops and bays where vehicles can stop to deposit or pick up their drivers before heading off to park themselves (and, obviously, no vehicles parked by the side of the road when the automation can let them drive themselves off and stow themselves in a buried parking hive until called for); the skymerge lanes in the middle of the highways where flitters transition between highway and flyway; and in general, a distinct lack of road markings and traffic signals which are all handled by AR systems – or at the very least, the vehicle HUDs – or automation in lieu of messy street furniture.

(And sometimes, they do have highway tunnel systems, extraordinarily long bridges – of multiple, even many miles – air-conditioned or environmentally supported highways on hostile worlds or in hostile regions, or highway tubes that dive beneath the oceans.)

Did You Get The Number Of That…?

“Disabling of road-grid transponders and/or the use of electronic countermeasures, sensory maskers, stealth coatings, chameleon paint, ambioptic invisibility, cloaking devices, or other detection-inhibition technologies on any flitter, ground-car, or other vehicle, in motion or stationary, on a public highway or skyway or other public-usage transportation volume is strictly prohibited as recklessly negligent operation.”

– Ministry of Transportation Ordinance #112-98

Road Repair

The flat robot hummed unheard as it ran along the rails of the sub-highway service plenum, gliding smoothly to a stop at the location of the damaged slab.  The plenum was clear; no need to move fragments out of the way before doing the replacement.

Clunk.  The pneumatic prop-ram extruded from above and below, pressing against the damaged surface slab and the ground alike, enough to take over the support of the highway and the vehicles on it while the slab was unsealed from the surrounding framework.  The robot paused momentarily, communing with the road-grid control center…

The wheelspheres of one groundcar had barely left the slab when it dropped down under the road, the prop-ram venting, only to be abruptly shoved aside by the loader, dropped into a waste hopper and replaced on the prop-ram by a clean replacement, this in turn slammed up into place by new air just in time for the wheelspheres of the freight wagon following to cross onto it.  Moments later, a hiss of active nanosealer sealed the new slab in place.

Job number HW-112-0000188 complete; no delays.  Proceeding to next job.