Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Autonomous Vehicles and Traveller

We postulate in this game a future in which we have all manner of fantastic technology, including robotics. When it comes to vehicles, we can have humaniform robots sitting in the operator's seat taking our place while driving us to work. Even better, the robot can become part of the vehicle - the self driving vehicle.
A civilian closed-top air/raft at TL8. Note the robotic controls.

A rare TL4 example of the Autonomous Vehicle. Note the robotic controls.

But we rarely see this in Traveller. Why? Is it that we want to be in the 'drivers' seat? That's the most likely explanation. We play these games to have adventures, to test our skills (in-game) and our playing skill (meta-game) against all the oddities and dangers the universe can throw at us. Why play it safe?

How could autonomous vehicles be incorporated without taking all the fun out of it? Well, they could be around the PCs but not in the air/raft with them. How?  Population centers could require autonomous vehicles within the city limits.

[Blogger's edit - I was re-reading the vehicle section in TTB and found this note in the Ground Car description: "at higher tech levels the car will steer itself (and on highly civilized worlds driving under human control is illegal in cities)"]

Mass transit options can run this way, as well as personal vehicles. Traffic lanes are set by the city, and indicated by beacons set every 50 meters after the fashion of telegraph poles. Vehicles' on board sensors detect the nearest 'lane' and waits for an opening. Each of the beacons could have enough computing power to control the traffic in its 100 diameter. All beacons connect to a traffic coordinating system across the urban area. The master computer sets the speed of travel. Think of the efficiency!
Ah, the open road. Or sky. Or whatever. Just not in the city limits, buster.

Let me see your License!

If the PCs want to control the vehicle, they have to get permission (Admin skill is handy). Ignore this and they face a Legal Encounter and probable fine for dangerous use of a vehicle. Once outside of the urban area, they take control of the vehicle. The Referee can use the periodic Throw to avoid mishap as described in the air/raft skill.

Right next to the Air/raft skill is the ATV skill, which states that skill levels can "allow increased speed and greater maneuverability".  The robotic control will not 'push' the vehicle for better performance, but a human driver can. The Referee determines the exact levels of improvement, but players have to ask for it!

Another standard use would be autonomous shuttles for interplanetary bulk cargo transport. These ships have no facilities for human operators, and use anti-intrusion measures. Why put humans on boring routine runs between planets, delivering raw materials and such?  Planetary motion is predictable so flight plans will be near 100% accurate. Bringing in human pilots increases the chance of a mishap! On final approach, operators on the ground could take control of the shuttles, as we do today with UAVs. 

As an aside to this, my house rule for contra-grav vehicles goes on an exponential scale. At TL 8 (introductory TL) contra-grav can lift a vehicle 1m off the ground, enough to clear most low obstacles. At TL 9, it CG can reach 10m. At TL 10, it's 100m and CG becomes aircraft as well as surface craft. At TL 11 range goes to 1000m/1km and free-flight is reached at last. Taking an air/raft to orbit requires sealing the craft. The air raft must have a specific conversion made[Mechanical/Electronics or Gravitics, throw 7+].

So that's the normal situation. What about Adventure?

At what TL do we finally get machines that can think (and react) like humans do?  Think logically and emotive/rational as we do?  It is not TL8, at the least. How could autonomous vehicles become an adventure scenario?  Here are some ways:
  • Auto-driver makes a mistake that the humans must correct, usually at the last second.
  • Enemies hacking the car's control computer and diverting it into oncoming traffic
  • EMP attacks or natural phenomena which produce similar issues where many cars go off course
  • Navigational errors that lead the unaware PCs into dangerous or restricted areas
  • A non-vehicular obstruction gets misinterpreted by the computer causing a dangerous swerve
  • Joyriding hoodlums or criminals fleeing the Law swoop in and out of regular traffic lanes
  •  A robotic construction vehicle has an error and begins demolishing a different building or moves into traffic

What other dangerous situations could the robot driver get the PCs into?  Leave a comment with your ideas.

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