Recently, a lot of talk about driverless cars is exciting people around the internet. Including me. Of all the science fiction fantasy things that people dream about, that is one I’m sure I will see in my lifetime — and it is certainly one to be excited about. The thought of turning my seat around to relax and ignore the outside world while enjoying cup a tea with friends or family during our drive is astounding. Cars, and the future will be vastly different then our own experience now.
I’m at the age were the science and technology of the future is perhaps easier to see, understand and predict. There will be breakthroughs, but we won’t get faster-than-light travel, jetpacks, laser guns (though they might possible, just not ethical because of how lasers injure people – this has been dealt with in the Geneva Convention), or flying cars. We will see, however, self-driving cars. Say goodbye to George Jetson, because the automobile is going to go full auto and I can only hope that I live long enough to live in a city for a few years to truly enjoy the freedom and luxury that they will provide.
When we look at shows like Downton Abbey where the masters of the house have a chauffeur to drive them around on a moment’s notice. “Bring the car around,” they say and off they go, whisked to yet another social engagement. They don’t have to worry about picking up the kids, dropping them off, or, god-forbid, junior getting a speeding ticket or driving the car into a light pole. It is all taken care of for them by the chauffeur. Unfortunately, for the rest of us, there are no chauffeurs, lives are lived around the schedules of driving here and there and too many hours are spent behind the wheel. During a busy school season with various kids in various activities, it would not be unheard of for a parent to spend a weekday afternoon driving from place to place for 2-3 hours. What if those 2-3 hours could be spent chatting on the phone, writing letters, or playing card games with the growing collection of kids in the seats? Self-driving cars will make that possible.
Robots do it better
People suck at driving. I mean they are really bad. Its not that people are unskilled drivers, after all, being able to weave between lanes and cars without actually hitting anything can be impressive. But many drivers are inattentive, egotistical and too many of them lack a sense of civic responsibility or community while driving in their car more so than any other activity. Too many drivers are self-absorbed focusing only on their own needs. I work in a day job in which I deal with the effects of this kind of distraction and ego on a daily basis. Idiocy, pride and attitude are the leading causes of car crashes and traffic violations. I’ve seen too much damage and too many dead bodies to think that people are good drivers. Fortunately, robots don’t have that problem.
Removing people from the equation of traffic safety is the best thing we can do. Traffic flow, patterns and the movement of traffic is a mechanical function. The movement of individual cars is a matter of physics and math. Most drivers don’t understand things like weight transfer and conservation of linear motion, nor can be expected to calculate it and act on it safely. Robots, however can understand those all while handling the calculations on the fly. They can do that at the time they are running the numbers on the 50 cars around them too. Robotic cars will know where every other car in the vicinity is going to be in 5 seconds, 10 seconds and more. The same can’t be said about people, who sometimes don’t even know where their own car is going to be.
Machines will collectively drive cars better, faster, and safer than people ever will be able to.
Laws will change
I look forward to the day when driving your own car will be illegal and there will certainly need to be legislative changes to make this wonderful world possible. Imagine getting fined because you chose to drive your car through town instead of letting the robot do it for you. Amazing. What a great place that will be.
However, there will be vast debates about individual freedoms and the right of citizens to do as they please. Arguments will be made about government infringing on the free activities of a free population. There will also be debates about privacy concerns since one method of intelligent cars will be cars that communicate with each other and with infrastructure networks. That will be a lot of data flowing through the air to be captured. Ownership of that data will need to be figured out, will it be private companies running our roadways, the DMV, or the police? Whoever has access to that data may have access to knowing where your car is at any given moment. While I personally have no real concerns about it, the debate will be a useful tool to managing how that data is controlled and eventually, useful safeguards will be in place to protect it. The downside of it is that the debate will take too long.
Unfortunately, I live in America and I predict that we will not be the first to this pleasant automobile future since the debates will slow everything down. San Fransisco, or New York might be the first cities ban human drivers within the city limits, but most of America will not see it within the next 50 years. Suburban sprawl cities will hold out for a very long time, which is unfortunate since it is these cities and areas that lack robust mass transit–they will be the most in need of this kind of technology. In fact, I would go so far as to say that unless there is a dramatic and progressive cultural shift in the next 10-20 years, legislative and political nonsense will prevent most Americans from seeing this future even though the technology exists. There will be a lot of barbaric and silly attitudes which will prevent widespread adoption here quickly and the people who block it will be rightfully be derided as ignorant and backward. If I want to enjoy the luxury and recovered hours hours of my life that this technology offers, ultimately, I feel, I will need to move to a city, or country that favors of it.
Ban human drivers!
America will not be first to ban human drivers, even though a good deal of the research is happening here. It will be Europe, with its multitude of dense cities which will ban humans first. London already has a designated zone in the city in which you have to pay a fee just to bring your car in. Transitioning that zone to a driverless zone would be step forward. While Germany might be the first to ban human drivers on the highway.
Highway systems are intended to be a closed system and the German autobahn infrastructure is arguably the finest and most advanced roadway system on the planet. It has high-quality, well-maintained surfaces and a road design conducive to very high speeds of travel. Locking out manual control when entering the autobahn and turning it over to a robotic control would allow speeds that would impress even the best of Germany’s driving public. It is another of my predictions that it will be the Germans with their mastery of engineering that will allow for safe and very high-speed automated automobile travel first (with common speeds exceeding 200mph/320kph). My prediction is that Germany will start phasing it in on autobahns within the next 20 years, look forward to it.
Sharing tea because of our new robot overlords
A signature element of the industrial revolution was leisure time. While the rich have always enjoyed the leisure that their success and efforts buy them, the poor and middle class have not. Robotic cars will change that and cause a significant cultural shift as people recapture hours of their lives and spend more time with the opportunity to do nothing simply because they no longer have to drive. That opportunity for extra free hours of time will translate itself into extra productivity, or a recapturing some of important activities that have gone by the wayside in our busy modern lives.
We will have the opportunity to watch movies, listen to (and safely concentrate on) recorded books, play cards with friends, converse attentively, or, perhaps for some, like me, turn the seat around, raise the table and share a good, hot pot of tea with the others in the car.