As we are in the middle of the holiday season, our thoughts turn to 2016 and beyond. With so many really serious issues surrounding us, I decided to think about something fun: autonomous vehicles. After all, what could go wrong?
Goggle has been testing driverless cars for seven years, and one was finally pulled over by a policeman. On 12 November 2015 a policeman stopped a Google car in Mountain View, CA, for doing 24 mph in a 35 mph zone and impeding traffic. When the policeman noticed there was no one in the vehicle, he did not give the car a ticket. Two good things to note about this incident: The Google car knew what to do when pulled over by a policeman on the road, and the absence of a ticket leaves Goggle’s record intact: 1.2 million miles of autonomous driving and no ticket. That is the equivalent of about 90 years of driving experience.
When was the last time you got a ticket for driving too slowly? And as Google CEO Sergey Brin said in a 2012 interview, Google cars “do not run right lights.”
- If you live in a metropolitan area, you will see an autonomous vehicle on a highway near you by 2020.
- By 2025, a significant percentage of the long haul trucks you pass on the US Interstates will be autonomous vehicles, and by 2030 there will likely be only autonomous semi-trailer vehicles on the Interstates outside of metropolitan areas.
- By 2025, large farms (1,000 or more farmed acres) will be exclusively using autonomous farm vehicles to grow crops like corn, wheat, and soybeans.
- In 2030, London will be the first large city to completely ban non-autonomous vehicles within the City of London. And by 2040 within the entire metropolis of London. The City of London is the originally settled part of London, covering the area settled by the Romans in the first century AD through the Middle Ages. It is 1.2 square miles and includes most of the government and financial buildings. Metropolitan London includes 32 additional boroughs and covers over 3,000 square miles.
- By 2025, we will see the first citywide Transportation as a Service These companies, possibly government run, will provide a variety of vehicles to move people and goods about the city on demand, integrated to the existing public transportation system. Expect to see them first in Detroit (sponsored by Ford), San Francisco (Google), and Seattle (Microsoft). We are seeing the first baby-steps towards this with Uber. Uber establishes the model of a mobile-app service that will take you when and where you want. The next step is to eliminate the driver.
- By 2040, hardly anyone within a metropolitan area will own a car. Parking lots will start to be replaced by parks or a more campus-like environment for work, living, and shopping
Some neat things you will be able to do:
- You will get limousine-like service going to and coming from the airport, and never have to worry about what is happening to your car while you are traveling, or even which lot you might have put you car. Same with shopping centers.
- If you own an autonomous vehicle, you never have to take it in for service. Just send it on its own.
- You can go shopping, summon a car and load it up, send it home, and then stroll around with a friend and get a cup of coffee. Summon another car to take you home where the first car is patiently waiting at your front door.
- When you arrive at a strange city for a business meeting, you won’t have to worry about how to get to your destination. Just pick up an autonomous car at the airport or train station, tell it where to go, and even keep it for the entire trip. It will even be able to give you a quick tour of the town, or take you to some specific spot you have always wanted to see, or recommend a restaurant.
- Older and disabled individuals will have all the mobility and freedom they want to maintain their lifestyle.
- You will never worry about you, your teenager, or someone else driving drunk or otherwise impaired.
Autonomous cars will be able to react much faster than you can. I had an uncle who lived in rural, western Pennsylvania who always advised us “kids” to never hit a deer. Followed by, never leave the road or your lane to avoid hitting a deer. He further explained that if you cannot avoid hitting a deer, accelerate; do not apply the brakes. Why? When you brake hard, the front of your car drops, potentially lowering the front bumper by several inches. This increases the probability that the deer will be thrown up over your hood. If it comes at you feet first it will go through the windshield and likely cause substantial injury or death to you or your front seat passenger. If you accelerate, the front of the car rises, increases the probability that the deer will go under the car. In either case, it is bad for the deer and your car, but the likelihood you will walk away is increased if you accelerate. The trick is to get over the “there’s a deer” startle, then decide whether you can avoid the collision and take the correct action in about a second. An autonomous car will figure it all out in about a tenth of a second. An autonomous car is more likely to correctly react to a change in road conditions such as black ice or a suddenly flat tire. For one thing, it will never have to have a startled reaction before actually doing something.
In addition, every autonomous car will keep a record of its actions and where it went. Like the black boxes on airplanes and trains, this information will be useful when there are accidents to figure out what happened and if programming changes might be needed. This information will also be available to the government in case they want to know where the car has been.
Your car might also tattle on you. A Florida woman was reportedly arrested after her Ford implicated her in at least one alleged hit-and-run incident. The car driven by 57-year old Cathy Bernstein automatically dialed 911 to report a crash. The call is part of the car’s safety package, notifying first responders to help locate the driver or passengers who might have lost consciousness in the crash. The 911 call enabled police to locate the car without talking with anyone. Ms. Bernstein denied that there had been any accident. Ford said its software worked as designed.
Whether my predictions are correct or not will be determined over time, but autonomous vehicles are coming.
The last word:
“A strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the high virtues of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation.”
Thomas Jefferson, Third President of the United States, in a letter to John B. Colvin, 20 September 1810. John Colvin was a newspaper publisher in the Baltimore-Washington area who supported Thomas Jefferson.
Keep your sense of humor.