Hooniverse Asks Bonus: Whither the Drive/r?

Autonomous – that is driverless – cars are coming, and they’re coming to our roads soon than you might think. What place, if any, do these devilish creations have on our roads? Will we soon be awash in a sea of self-aware cars? Are we about to witness Overdrive come to life? Let’s found out.
A few days ago, I was reading about Ford’s latest experiment in autonomous vehicles, a fully-equipped 2017 Fusion (Hybrid, naturally) with seven cameras and plenty of computing power to process everything it’s seeing and turn that into useful information. They had this Fusion on display at CES earlier this month, which lately has started to look more like a car show.
Like most of you, I consider driving – especially driving for fun – one of life’s greatest pleasures. There is nothing quite so exciting as grabbing the keys on a sunny day, aiming your car for the nearest scenic road, and letting the miles roll by under your wheels. Some of my fondest memories in life happened behind the wheel or in a car, in fact. Remember taking road trips with the family as a kid? Remember your first car? Man, what a rush that was. How about taking your car to the limit (or over), and that rush of adrenaline you felt. Is there anything better? Cars then, like now, represent something more than simply an appliance for moving soft humans from house to office to house. They represent freedom, and the ability to go where we want, when we want.
FILE - This May 13, 2014 file photo shows a row of Google self-driving Lexus cars at a Google event outside the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. Of the nearly 50 self-driving cars rolling around California roads and highways, four have gotten into accidents since September, 2014. That’s when the state officially began permitting these cars of the future, which use sensors and computing power to maneuver around traffic. Three accidents involved souped-up Lexus SUVs run by Google Inc. The fourth was an Audi retrofitted by the parts supplier Delphi Automotive. Google and Delphi said the accidents were minor and their cars were not at fault.(AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
Driverless cars can serve a useful purpose, I think. For example, ride hailing could be really convenient, especially if you live in the city. Even delivery services could take advantage of this – imagine putting a package on board a car, sending it to a rural location, then bringing it back, without paying a driver. There are plenty of good uses for these machines, if done right.
Now – will autonomous cars replace our treasured freedom machines? Not by a country mile, if you ask me. For instance, I can never imagine a situation where I would want an autonomous truck to go backwoods camping. Nor can I envision a time where autonomous vehicles replace the reasoning and judgment of a well-trained paramedic responding to an emergency. There are certain situations in life that call for a rational, thinking human to handle, and there also times when we just want to drive, because it’s FUN. We enjoy it.
I’ve said my piece; now, how about you? What’s your take on Ford’s Fusion? What place do you see for driverless cars in the near future? Let us know in the comments.

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11 responses to “Hooniverse Asks Bonus: Whither the Drive/r?”

  1. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    I’d much rather that the person in front of me in heavy traffic had an autonomously driven vehicle while they are texting/applying make-up/talking on their phone/eating/reading/etc rather than actually, you know, DRIVING or more accurately,not. At least that way I know there is some control of the vehicle and I am safer.

  2. Jofes2 Avatar

    When it comes to driving as a profession, it is hard for me to see anything that would make companies hire people to drive if they do not have to at all.
    For normal cars, though, I think there will be a market for both. People who compare this to the shift from horses to cars are exaggerating a lot. The advantages of using cars where we previously used horses are enormous compared to those of using an autonomous vehicle instead of a driven one. In fact, we have been able to enjoy the upsides of not driving ourselves ever since the car was invented by simply letting someone else drive. Self-driving cars are increasing the supply of these advantages, not necessarily the demand for them.
    Think about it: when you are a passenger, are you suddenly saving loads of time getting stuff done in the car? I am not.

  3. Maymar Avatar

    I live in a big sprawling metro area, with lackadaisical licensing standards, so yes, I absolutely welcome autonomous cars.
    I would definitely have a motorcycle or fun car for country roads, but mundane commuting isn’t the least bit fun.

  4. Alff Avatar

    I look forward to the new road course populated with rolling chicanes.

  5. outback_ute Avatar

    “Cars then, like now, represent something more than simply an appliance for moving soft humans from house to office to house”
    True, but the majority of travel would be just that A-B transport. There isn’t much driving enjoyment to be had in heavy traffic.
    On the other hand, I am highly sceptical that all the millions of possible scenarios have been covered by the programmers. Eg in an area with small children will an autonomous car be aware that a ball bouncing out onto a road might be followed by a child? I remember one of the Google cars ran into a bus when trying to maneuver around an obstacle on the road several months ago. IMO they have a lot of work to do before they are ready for consumer use.
    Also I hope that the Level 3 “not-quite-fully autonomous” cars, where the human is expected to take over at a moment’s notice if the car can’t cope, never happen because that is just plain unrealistic. If the computer can’t figure out what to do, the situation will too urgent for the time needed for the “driver” to mentally come back from their book/computer/phone and react. Having defined the Level 3, they should be banned, including where the existing self-driving cars may be headed with increasing amounts of ‘hands-off’ time.

  6. crank_case Avatar

    I think driverless cars most useful application will be “last leg” transport linking up other forms of public transport like rail for commuting. low power local trip Pod things and small buses more than a direct replacement for conventional cars. It would take away the excuses not to use the train, make such systems serve a wider area econmically even in lower density areas and It makes more sense from an energy use standpoint than everyone making the entire trip in their own personal 100KWH Tesla for a 2 hour commute, all quick charged off the grid sucking the entire normal domestic consumption of a normal house for a day or two in the space of 30 minutes which isn’t exactly compatible with managing demand from renewable energy.
    It has plenty of upsides, but I do fear our liberty to drive ourselves being impinged on, not directly, but perhaps through increased insurance costs, though I reckon it won’t happen for a long time yet. Perhaps when no-one has to drive, it might be an opportunity to raise the standards required to get a license.

    1. theskitter Avatar

      Aside from places that already have dense light rail, the Pods will be the vast majority of public transport. They will take you directly from where you are to where you want to go, on your schedule.
      You’ve just given me the idea for cargo pods trailers.
      Your point about not putting everyone in something as big as a Model S is well taken. We’ll increase the efficiency by going toward much smaller vehicles, as well as avoiding as much acceleration/deceleration as possible, unlike a train or bus that stops at every station.
      And I don’t think it’s so much that your insurance costs will go up, as much as everyone else’s will go down. Their autonomous cars will keep your insurance costs low by keeping you out of trouble.
      But then, I’m a natural optimist when it comes to the long term, and a professional pessimist when doing the implementation work.

      1. crank_case Avatar

        My pessimism about insurance stems from living in a country where insurers treat mild modification like you’d just told them you’d be using your car to transport plutonium rods. 🙁

  7. GTXcellent Avatar

    In my neck of nowhere, with a complete non-existence of public transportation, the biggest users I can see are the elderly. Instead of having to move off the farm and into town, the Greatest Generation (and early-Boomers) can remain livinig in their homes, knowing they’ll safely be able to get to medical appointments, or the grocery store, or the VFW.

  8. Alff Avatar

    I would like Sbarro, Mansory and Mitsuoka to come together in an orgy of poor taste.

  9. Fred Talmadge Avatar
    Fred Talmadge

    A self driving car for my old age might be appealing. Hopefully it would correct me from stepping on the gas when I mean to step on the brake. Or other mistakes us old folks make.