Autonomous Vehicles make me sad, but happy

I read an article a while ago and tagged it for later comment here. So I reread it now and had some time to think it over.

I’m an engineer at heart, I love technology, I love the advances I’ve been alive to witness, they excite me, we’re in a time where processing power is increasing at a semi exponential rate, allowing us to accomplish more and more tasks that previously we were restrained from doing. One of these is the autonomising of driving.

For many driving is a pain, a daily task, something they’d avoid if they could. It’s also an extremely dangerous task. But for many they have no other option. Even in countries with good public transport, some times the convenience of having your own vehicle cannot be ignored. But it’s not the act of travelling in the car that’s frustrating, it’s the actual driving, the constant vigilance and focus required that they dislike. The other drivers on the road that make the task dangerous. And thus the high appeal to have autonomous vehicles. It will also give the convenience of driving your own car to many people who aren’t able/allowed to drive, such as children, old people, drunk people and the disabled.

But then there’s me. And the many like me. Who enjoy driving. Who derive pleasure from the act of being in control and steering these vehicles. And this is what saddens me. Is that in the future I won’t be able to climb into my car and drive to work. I can be driven to work, but I can’t do the driving. And unlike the version shown to us in iRobot where one was still able to take manual control, the system that will ensure the greatest benefit for us all is one where everyone’s vehicle is autonomous. If everyone’s vehicles are linked, it would allow for much faster travel speeds, and will lower our vehicle collision occurrences to negligible amounts. Overtaking no longer becomes an issue as the cars all know exactly where the others are and how long it will take to overtake. And even Google in their latest promos are showing off vehicles that can’t be controlled manually.

Google prototype - googleblog

Google prototype – googleblog

But I won’t be allowed to drive. I spent 3 months in Germany at the end of 2012, and not once during my time there was there an occasion where I though, “Damn, I really need a car now”. There was a good public transport system that met most of my needs, bar one or two abnormalities. But it’s not about need. The first thing I did when I got home was hop into my car and go in search of a nice windy road.

And again, from an engineering perspective I admire the progress they are making. The modelling and control systems alone are enough to incite wonder. I myself doing my masters and applying some focus on an extremely simple autonomous vehicle system feel in the position to truly appreciate what is being achieved. But then I get sad again.

Google Self-driving test vehicle - google.com/press

Google Self-driving test vehicle – google.com/press

I know it’s good. I know this. I know it’s the way things have to go. The roads are only growing more congested as our population grows and the access to motor vehicles increases. There are obviously still lots of hurdles to overcome. Having the technology is half the problem, the other half is getting governments on board, and then getting the population on board, this will not be an easy or quick task, to me even the projection of 2050 is too early, merely from the human aspect. Then again I have little experience in long term projections, and if you consider what has happened in the last 50 years, who knows.

Maybe with this we’ll see a rise in recreational driving. Make driving circuits more available to the public. Maybe that’s all I really want, is an output. In the mean time, California are busy setting out their regulations for autonomous vehicle testing, for manufacturers only. So I think we’ll see the continuous small incremental progress for the next 10 years or so, before we really get somewhere.

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