Nolan Bushnell is, generally, a guy who’s proven to be pretty good at guessing what the future holds. He saw some geeks playing Spacewar on a huge old computer, and made the prescient leap that someday we’d all be playing games on computers, for example. He also thinks it’ll be illegal to drive your own car in cities by 2035.

Bushnell also was the first to approach the colossal, strangely humanoid mouse Charles Emerson Cheese and convince him to start a chain of very successful kid restaurant/arcades, he pioneered in-car navigation systems, among other things. He has a decent track record of picking winners.

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Of course, he’s not totally flawless — we don’t have Topo robots everywhere, like his failed company Androbot would have hoped:

His recent predictions, revealed at about 1:38 in this USA Today Tech podcast, are interesting. Well, the first one is less interesting, since the idea that human-driven cars will be made illegal in cities isn’t exactly a totally novel prediction, and it’s one I’m not so certain will be true.

I’m sure autonomous cars will become much more prevalent, and, in highly congested urban areas, may very well outnumber human-driven cars by a significant amount. I just don’t see what the real incentive will be to make human-driven cars actually illegal. The numbers of those cars will likely be much lower, and even if there’s restrictions, the benefits of making human-driven cars illegal seems pretty minimal compared to the costs and difficulty of enforcing such a law.

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Now, Bushnell’s other idea, which involves physical packet-switching, is far more interesting. Bushnell suggests that autonomous cars will have a sort of trunk—or trunks—on the rear quarters of the car. These trunks would be used for package delivery, in a manner similar to how data is sent on the internet, just with boxes of Google VR sex toys and Blue Apron boxes instead of data.

The idea would be that the autonomous cars would be in constant communication, and the packages could send requests to go to a given destination. Cars heading that way would pick up the packages on their own, and pass the packages off to other cars on the fly, until the parcel made it to its destination.

Does that mean your own car could end up stopping at an address, and you’d have to get the package out and drop it on a doorstep? Would that ‘last mile’ be handled by specialized other robots? Would it be limited to just autonomous cars that have agreed to do it? Would the owners be compensated? I’m not really sure about any of these questions, but it’s a novel idea, and I do agree that autonomous cars will be used independently for errands and package delivery.

So, give the podcast a listen, why not? Bushnell is a bright, interesting guy outside the car-world, so it’s always good to hear these sorts of opinions.

Oh, as an aside: I met Nolan Bushnell once, when I built a 15x-scale Atari joystick. Here’s a picture! He even signed my Combat cartridge!


Contact the author at jason@jalopnik.com.