Saturday, March 9, 2013

Driverless Car Rant

Driverless cars are coming, and sooner rather than later.  They're not just for techno-geeks any more.

"Highway safety" and environmental advocates want them.  The insurance industry wants them: way fewer accidents.  The Peeps will want them: you can multitask, or turn yours into a family room.  I've seen TV and web pieces on driverless cars published by reporters like the one below who are scared of driving, or think it's a waste of time that could be spent doing something--anything--more interesting and useful.

Public authorities want them: fewer traffic stops, accident investigations, and signage.  Red-light-runner problem in your town?  Viola!  The driverless car.  Police officers can be freed up to investigate crime. Fewer patrol cars and associated costs.  (This presents some interesting public policy problems.  Some states are already moving away from gasoline taxes to fund road repair because fuel-efficient cars are drying up the revenue stream.  Driverless cars won't help to fund police departments with traffic fines either.)

Perfectibility of driverless technology aside, most people just don't care about sensual and psychological engagement with a car.  Performance-oriented drivers complain that electric power steering removes road feel.  Traditionalists  among us prefer stirring the gearbox and mastering three pedals to "floppy paddles." This puzzles normal drivers: "Why would you want to manipulate the transmission?  That's what D and R are for!  If you can feel the tires' slip angles working, you're going too fast!"  We who like to drive cars are, and always have been, 10% of the population at best.

Jay Leno rightly predicts that twenty years hence, maybe sooner, the only place we'll be able to use our toys is at track days.   We'll take public transportation to work, or carpool in very clever 4 to 6 person modules inspired by Leafs, Priuses, LaCrosses, and hybrid minivans.  In urban and suburban areas, anyway.  (It will be surprising if the first vehicles to go driverless aren't fleet trucks, from 18-wheelers down to UPS and Fedex.  The human aboard will perform functions now done in the office, like dispatching and route-planning).

Here's a taste:

I'll be convinced that the technology is perfected when a driverless car can navigate the Tail of the Dragon in 15 minutes.  On my current cars, I usually leave the Stability Control switched on.  I would switch the ABS off most of the time if I could.  If I'm forced to buy driverless car capability, it'll be switched off all the time.  Except when commuting in freeway rush-hour traffic.



Ugh, ugh, UGH!

If he thinks he'll have his feet up, and not be belted-in, he's got another think coming.  And why is he reading a codex
book instead of a Nook or an iPad?  If we're gonna do this Brave New World stuff, let's do it.

The "styling" of the green car reminded me of this, which is more what I have in mind for "the driving experience."
Stan Mott did a series of cartoons for Road & Track around the turn of the decade in 1960.  According to Stan, the
Cyclops was built by Piero Martini from aluminum Cinzano signs he stole from Italian roadsides.  Automobili 
Cyclops installed a highly-tuned single-cylinder motorcycle engine in the back.  This is Martini himself
demonstrating the LeMans model, with a suitcase air-brake for the Mulsanne Straight.

1 comment:

Lauren jonczak said...

It is going to blow my mind the first time I see a completely driverless car. That is something that is definitely futuristic like the flying car which I swear I will see before I die. I agree with you fleet trucks would benefit from a driverless vehicle. I really hope to see this sometime soon. Thanks for the great post, very interesting.

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