Brave New World? Or just a chimera?

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Charlie the Tuna
Charlie the Tuna (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know it’s election season and we are inundated with hype. But, this is not an election issue (yet). These promises of self-driving cars by next month, next year, or even by 2021 are just pipe dreams.

I’m not saying we aren’t developing technology that will make assisted driving possible- but autonomous vehicles… Sorry, Charlie.

Way back when the last great World’s Fair obtained (that’s 1964-65 for those of you who weren’t around then), General Motors (GM) had a great exhibit. It and the GE exhibit were among the two most frequented sites at the fair.

GM was demonstrating it’s Futurama. A future where cars truly drove in autonomous fashion. Where accidents would not occur, where traffic would move carefully and routinely. Of course, we had not developed cheap microprocessors back then to make this a near reality, but there was critical thinking in their concept.

The autonomous vehicles begin around 4:30 into the video.

The concept required “smart highways”. Highways that could discern how much traffic was on the roads, highways that were enabled to let cars know where the center line of each lane obtained, and other such issues.

So, I’m sure you figured out that we need to invest in our infrastructure. To build the roads to let autonomous cars exist- safely. We also need to develop laws to determine who will be responsible if there is an accident. If the car is built by GM with a brain by Mobility- and it hits another vehicle or runs over a pedestrian- who is the responsible party? There isn’t a driver- and that vehicle car was not invented, modified, or augmented by the owner. This is a place where the current law fails.

Then, of course, we need to address another issue. Like what will we do for jobs for all those taxi drivers, the auto parts delivery folks, the pizza delivery folks? Because they will be out of a job the second these autonomous cars are viable.

Or, the more highly paid (and skill-laden) tractor trailer drivers? What will become of their jobs? (Of course, I really wonder how many years it will be before we can have an autonomous tractor-trailer back up a narrow alley and park contiguous to the loading dock? )

I am pretty sure that we will have driver assisted cars. Cars that can help us make a trip from DC to Philly (maybe not during rush hour) on the highway, where the roads are clearly defined, are among the best maintained (the interstate highways in general, not necessarily this particular segment)- but may demand we take the wheel when we reach the outskirts of the city. Both because traffic is more prone to be at those locations- and because the streets that are closer together so the GPS portion of the controller won’t be able to discern exactly where the vehicle is.

Consider what happens when you are driving now and miss an exit- how long before your GPS utters that confounding word: “recalculating”. It actually is an amazingly long moment (close to 10 seconds)- which is a lifetime if the car were to be fully reliant on the computers and gizmos to keep it autonomous.

Or, what happens when the weather turns. It starts to pour, it gets foggy, or lightning and hail are all around you? I’m pretty sure the car will immediately maneuver to the side of the road, in effect providing the occupants with a “time-out”.

We only will enjoy this brave new world if we convince our current politicians to begin preparing for it. By building the proper infrastructure to support the autonomous vehicle.

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