Driverless Cars

I haven’t really felt like writing much lately. In fact, I haven’t really felt like doing much of anything lately.

But this morning as I was surfing the Net, I came across a feed saying the Brits are planning to test driverless cars on roads in as many as three cities in a trial program to begin in January. It triggered a report I had heard while venturing to Maine a couple of months ago {that’s a key point I’ll be referring to later}. At the time, I stuffed it in the vast file cabinet in my mind. But it’s time to take it out for comment.

My first reaction was a driverless car — a vehicle equipped with hardware and software to allow completely robotic operation — would be cool, especially on a long trip. Heck, you could stretch out and take a nap while Priscilla did the work {hey, you have to name it something}. Or snuggle in with a good book {okay, who are we kidding … I would stick with the nap}. Or enjoy the burger, fries and drink without navigating through traffic.

Current technology uses a 64-beam laser that allows the vehicle to generate a detailed 3D map of its environment. The car then takes these generated maps and combines them with high-resolution maps of the world, producing different types of data models that allow it to drive itself. The system works with a very high definition inch-precision map of the area the vehicle is expected to use on-board computer systems coupled with remote computer farms.

But as I was driving through the rain in Maine that mid-June night, it struck me. Those computer systems have to be a lot better than current technology. My phone carrier — the computer of choice at this time and place — often runs at a blazing 0G speed, especially in rural areas. More often than not, I get 3G coverage only when piggybacking on other networks and even in major cities, 4G is available only when outside … in an open field … with the sun shining … standing next to a tower. Inside a building? Forgetaboutit!

I was also struck by the number of times I had to reset Doris {that soft, sultry voice who guides me on Mapquest, named after a blonde I knew who knew it all} as I zipped between population centers on the Maine Turnpike. Poor Doris would get hopelessly lost as she lost contact with the GPS satellite. Or maybe she just got spooked seeing the moose in the woods.

And I was struck by the fact I had to abandon Pandora because my computer’s {phone} battery couldn’t keep up with both Mapquest and Pandora and other running aps despite being plugged into a power supply.

And I thought about the times other drivers did something unexpected {did you ever drive on the Beltway around Washington, DC?}. I’m not sure I would risk my life on split-second decisions tied to on-board or off-board technology and/or enjoy my burger, fries and drink while bucking in traffic as fellow travelers made sudden unexplained stops or decided to switch lanes on a whim.

And I thought about my love affair with cars and the open road. We have a relationship that has spanned 50 years and probably well over 1,000,000 miles. You never have to ask me twice to take a road trip. I remember my Dad asking me how I could put 250 miles on my brand new Corvair … in one day! I’m not sure I’m ready for Priscilla. Latest prototypes call for no steering wheel, gas pedal or brakes. It’s 100% autonomous.

Technology has certainly made its mark on the automotive industry … or as Miranda Lambert puts it, Back before everything became automatic. Now we have remote starting, auto braking, cruise control, back up cameras and sensors, accident avoidance systems, blind spot and lane departure warnings, park assist and even tire pressure monitors.

These aren’t bad, but they have resulted in dumbed down drivers. I mean, park assist? I had to parallel park … in a standard shift, 900-foot long, two ton tank with no power steering … in traffic!

Just a couple of weeks ago, while returning my grandkids to Massachusetts, I hit a bump — okay it was really a mountain peak disguised as a bump — that caused the rear view mirror to come crashing down. My grandson thought it was the end of the world. How, oh how were we going to get him home? Well, I explained as his hands whitened on his tightened seat belt, I still had the side mirrors … and I knew how to use them.

In my day, we didn’t rely on idiot lights or on-board computers or tire pressure monitors. We actually checked our own oil — by hand — or had the oil and tire pressure checked when we got 25 cent a gallon gas by the attendant. I actually nursed my 56 Chevy back home from the Jersey shore in the wee hours of a summer morning — about 50 miles — with a blown oil gasket. And I knew how to get my truck back home when the transmission died {I wasn’t that far from home, but drove in reverse all the way}. I remember nonchalantly drying off the distributor cap on my 57 Caddy after she stalled going through a mid-wheel high puddle and even used my tie — yes, my tie — as an emergency fan belt. Back in the day, we knew our cars. They were more than just a means of transportation. They were our friends.

So, Priscilla, nothing personal, but I don’t think I’m quite ready for you. In fact, I actually do long for my father’s Oldsmobile.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: When you feel like crying, for joy or out of pain, let ‘er rip. If you don’t get those tears out, they will calcify in your chest and make it harder to love as fully and deeply as you would like to.

About wisdomfromafather

I'm just an ordinary guy walking along the journey of life.
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