Driverless vehicles — will the changes ever affect our classics?
You bet they will, mark my words!
Initially, I didn’t bat an eyelid when I first read about driverless cars, because, as many of you know, they are already here — in one form or another. Just the other day, while stopped at a set of traffic lights here in Christchurch, I saw several. One had a young female in the driver’s seat with her face downcast looking at something with a light on it in her lap. Whatever it was, she was oblivious to the fact that the lights had changed to green, and she continued to sit with her eyes downwards until my alpine air horns brought her rapidly back to reality. Further down the road, another twit, this time a male, was sitting at the traffic lights reading a newspaper — with a police car stopped adjacent to him at the same lights. A quick burst of the siren saw the driver frantically shove the newspaper down onto the passenger seat, and the nice policeman could be seen waving his finger at the errant motorist by way of castigation.
I’m sure many of you will have similar experiences of idiots in charge of motor vehicles thinking that using cell phones, reading newspapers, drinking coffee, eating breakfast, pluming one’s hair, shaving, etc. are all acceptable and non-dangerous things to do while commuting in a car. Clearly, they are tomorrow’s potential new owners of the proper driverless cars, and are seemingly just getting in some practice. Well, they need to think again.
Those of you with computers and laptops will probably have seen that annoying little pop-up screen in the top right-hand corner of the screen that says ‘Google Chrome’. There I was, thinking it was just another internet browser engine or something to do with a shiny car, perhaps, but, maybe, it’s actually the first inroad of the driverless car into our lives! Believe it or not, Google self-driving cars are (apparently) “a range of autonomous cars, developed by Google X as part of its project to develop technology for mainly electric cars. Lettering on the side of each car identifies it as a ‘self-driving car’”, Wikipedia tells me.
Wikipedia goes on to say that: “the project was … led by Sebastian Thrun, former director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and a co-inventor of Google Street View. Thrun’s Stanford team created the robotic vehicle Stanley which won the 2005 DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] Grand Challenge and a US$2 million prize from the US Department of Defense. The team developing the system consisted of 15 Google engineers, including Chris Urmson, Mike Montemerlo, and Anthony Levandowski who had worked on the DARPA Grand and Urban Challenges.
“Legislation has been passed in four US states and Washington, DC allowing driverless cars. The state of Nevada passed a law on June 29, 2011, permitting the operation of autonomous cars in Nevada, after Google had been lobbying in that state for robotic car laws. The Nevada law went into effect on March 1, 2012, and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles issued the first license for an autonomous car in May 2012, to a Toyota Prius modified with Google’s experimental driverless technology. In April 2012, Florida became the second state to allow the testing of autonomous cars on public roads, and California became the third when Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law at Google Headquarters in Mountain View. In December 2013, Michigan became the fourth state to allow testing of driverless cars on public roads. In July 2014, the city of Coeur d’alene, Idaho adopted a robotics ordinance that includes provisions to allow for self-driving cars.”
All clear so far? As Big Al would often say on episodes of the popular TV show Home Improvement, “I don’t think so, Tim!” Mark my words — they will not gain any traction (no pun intended) in my time. Already, as recently as in May 2016, one of these so-called driverless cars failed to detect a turning truck in front of it, and the driver/ pilot was killed. This vehicle was one of Tesla’s contraptions. As a consequence, US authorities are investigating public concerns about the safety of such vehicles. Tesla is also facing a financial squeeze, as heavy debts are due later this year, so it will be interesting to see if the company survives.
Other problems could include the debacle that would develop if any of the satellite navigation went down. We know that, back in May 1967, the Western world’s ballistic missile radar network went down because of sudden fluctuations in the sun’s electromagnetic radiation. Fortunately, the weather experts discovered it was not the work of Soviet jammers. But, if driverless cars take off (no, wrong choice of words, I think!), how do we know that there won’t be some sort of satellite interference or computer bug that causes mayhem and mishap? We already know that, for example, BMW can disable your stolen car wherever it is in the world via satellite — and it can remotely let you back into it when you inadvertently lock the keys inside, as long as you didn’t leave them inside the vehicle with your cell phone, of course!
As for our classic cars, regular readers will already be aware of my efforts to bring my Zephyrs up to speed with modern technology, with abysmal results. I have already tried sending the Zephyr off down the driveway without me being behind the wheel, although, to be honest, that was not a serious attempt at driverless technology; rather, it was just that I left the handbrake off, and it decided to head for the front gate all by itself! Luckily, I managed to scramble into it again and apply the handbrake — but you get the idea.
If driverless technology does takes off, scammers will have a whole new arena for their frauds. “Hello? This is so-and-so from Whatever Driverless Car Company. Can you please go and start your car? There seems to be a problem with it!” Whereupon, you’d go out to the garage and start it up, return to the phone to talk to the scammer, only to hear it driving off down the road to who knows where! Repossessions would be able to be done from the dealer’s office, and your bank could call in your loan the same way.
We have enough trouble with computer hackers as it is without giving them a whole new playground to stuff up. And, for as long as I have my Zephyrs, I intend to sit behind the wheel driving them as I have always done (one at a time, of course!).
And what about job losses? According to various reports, there will be massive unemployment when people who rely on driving a vehicle for a living are made redundant.
Finally, remember that as fast as one motor company developed ‘tamper-proof’ odometers, someone just as quickly developed a program to tamper with them. Thus, as soon as driverless technology is unleashed on us, you will be able to buy a gadget that stuffs up the computer of any nearby driverless cars — which is just how those cell-phone jammers work.
Now would be the time to invest in a panelbeating company, I reckon. Hopefully you are not reading this article while sitting at traffic lights!