Autonomous Vehicles, Scary Tech
Google wants to test the autonomous car idea with taxis. Can you imagine getting into a taxi in a big city, where the taxis drive themselves? Yeah, you’re probably right—most likely no change! But seriously, even if one of the passengers needs to be at the steering wheel—just in case—can you imagine the panic? In big cities the stops and starts are measured in inches, people spill out into the streets, pushcarts border the curbs, and bicycles swerve in and out. In big cities, nothing is predictable, so leaving drive-time thinking up to a car is just a scary thought, no matter how many safe highway miles they’ve logged.
At one time, trolleys were common in cities, and some cities still have them. Most trolleys run on tracks, and while there is a conductor, like in a train, they pretty much drive themselves, until they reach the end of their journey—where the passengers can lend a hand in turning them around for the return trip. Trolley tracks were embedded in the streets; tracking was pretty safe. Can cars and truck and motorcycles all going their own directions travel autonomously and safely? There just seem to be too many unpredictable variables.
Looking at the reality, these vehicles are being tested, and some of the autonomous driving specifications have made it to production already. Vehicles that talk to a driver, make the driving space comfortable for a driver, or even take control over a car and apply the brakes automatically, if something is in front or in back. The latter is still a scary thought. This is well beyond making the driving experience comfortable for the drivers or passengers. This really is relegating control of tons of quickly moving steel, plastic, chrome, petrol, and the humans traveling inside to the car. Who gets the driver’s license—the driver or the car? And if there’s an accident, where is blame placed?
“OK, car, parallel park between that red convertible and that green dump truck. If you can do that, you get your license.” Can you imagine? What if the red convertible and the green dump truck decide to drive, at that particular moment in time, and all on their own?
Isaac Asimov, and other science fiction writers, who dreamed things like this so very long ago would be impressed. And all of those primary schoolers, who in the 1950s wrote about self-driving, flying cars being common-place one day would love the idea, too, but would they get in one now? Better yet, would they let their grandchildren get in one today?