Three sequential emotions hit you when you take a spin in a driverless car: fear, awe, and boredom. Google is in on the game. Releasing the first autonomous car onto the whizzy San Francisco streets this year. Although planes and public transport systems have been largely automated for years, the hype is now focusing on moving this tech onto our highways.
At the first autonomous vehicle race in 2004 seven odd looking cars with their anxious builders standing aside got ready. Not one made it to the finish line. In the second year an astonishing few stragglers just about made it by reprogramming the exact racing track into their driving mechanism. But of course, we cannot program the worlds’ roads, particularly the offbeat side tracks.
The challenge is to recreate the complex system within the brain that navigates us through the world and responds to the ever changing surprises that jump out in front of us. It’s not the mechanical act of driving but the dexterity involved in visual processing and orchestrating the appropriate response.
Time Magazine writes: "Virginia is becoming a mecca for self-driving cars"
In this Time piece from this week, Virginia is mentioned to be a most congested state in the US, while becoming a mecca for self-driving cars. But Virginia could also use self driving cars to increase safety and reduce traffic deaths. With 9.22 deaths per 100,000 in the middle of national comparison and 840 per 1,000 people, the state has a population where almost everyone owns a car. Explore Virginia and other US states in the visualisation below.
A scatterplot comparing how many vehicles are there for each state (number of vehicles per 1,000 people) and the amount of traffic deaths. When you hover over the circles, you get the total contribution to traffic deaths in the US expressed in circle size. Surprisingly, states such as Montana and Wyoming with less cars are among the states with the highest amount of traffic death. Are their drivers more careless? their streets more dangerous?
Most accidents are due to human error: we drink, we doze, we get distracted. But somehow the story of a sleepy driver is less horrifying than the story of a rogue autonomous car bringing us to our unfortunate ending.
A large part of accepting driverless technology into our cars boils down to our emotions rather than rationality. John Nosta, a futurologist working for Google, explained during an interview with nuviun how important the acceptance of tech is as important as the technical development.
We move through waves of fantasy, disbelief and normalisation. Like the Italian futurists of 1900 clung to fantasies of aeroplanes and fast transportation which then became a reality, the early 2000s were characterised by disbelief and fantasies of driverless cars.
In the next decade or so, John Nosta believes that driverless cars will be normalised into our day-to-day and we will question why anyone would ever manually drive. Paradigm shifts characterise how idea moves to conception and then adoption, similar to how emotions of getting into a driverless car move from fear to awe and then boredom.
In Sao Paulo, a man stares at an enclosed metal box as the metro rattles through one of the biggest metropolises of the World. His job, bizarrely, is to babysit the automated driving system in case it goes rogue. Symbolising our perhaps irrational fear of fully submitting to machine control of transport.
Freightliner commercial truck just got it’s driving license and can operate on public roads. But the intimidatingly heavy object hurtles down the road with a human companion. Similar to the Sao Paulo metro maybe we are not quite ready to take the plunge.
Human vs. Machine
Cyclists and pedestrians take the biggest hit in US traffic deaths, being more vulnerable and also lacking cycle paths and pavements. Perhaps driverless cars would be able to react to unexpected circumstances more carefully and reduce the deaths?
Imagine being able to nap while you travel, beds of wheels. Or maybe even have an office on wheels with wifi where we could work while on the road. If John Nosta’s predictions are right our initial gut rejection will be overcome by the logical development and practical use.
Myths vs. Facts: Why Self-driving Cars Are Awesome?
1. "...A computer driving my car and in full control of my health and safety? I am doubting that I can trust it"
Human's get tired, computers don't. Drowsiness is a great contributor to car accidents in the US.
What does drowsiness mean to car safety?
Car manufacturer Daimler came up with a drowsiness detection system called Attention Assist, which warns drivers to prevent them falling asleep momentarily.
2. "...I know how to drive my car best"
Better Road utilisation could be achieved with self driving car technology, reducing the amount of fuel used and offering possibilities to cause less traffic jams (tech that maintains tight gabs between cars with low elasticity as they move back an forth).
Not are there more cars on the road, but tech can help us to optimise fuel consumption. Using cruise control, according to Edmunds, can save up to 14% fuel with an average savings of 7%.
3. "...That modern self-driving car stuff is too expensive"
It doesn't have to be. Cruise offers a $10,000 car "accessory" that is attached to the roof of the car similar to a car roof carrier basket.
4. "...But I like driving"
Really, do you? Even if driving takes away 4.3 years of your lifetime and you spend and average of 38 hours a year in traffic (around 2,963 hours in a US lifetime)?