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Autonomous Cars And Nothing To Do

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Tesla has announced that all of its cars have full self driving hardware. Meanwhile, a bevy of manufacturers chomping at the bit to get their share of the autonomous pie. This incessant race for cars that propel and direct themselves begs the question:

“What are we gonna be doing in the car as it drives itself?”

I mean, it’s not as if we don’t already do makeup, send texts, tweet and even read the newspaper while driving in a car that we must diligently pilot. Imagine the possibilities if we could leave the responsibility solely to a bunch of conductors, processors and chips.

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“What are we gonna do?”

One of two things:

1. We’re gonna pay more attention to driving than we ever have before.

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While we are annoyed with the task of driving, we absolutely love having control. We cannot imagine sitting back and allowing our specially-engineered car to float around on some specially-designed road in some specially-constructed infrastructure without any input from us. If you hated it when you had a back seat driver, imagine how much you will hate hearing “Slow down!” or “Jesus, Mary and Joseph! What are you doing?” — especially when it’s coming from you.

Personally, I can’t imagine twiddling my thumbs on a 60 mph cruise. I’m the type of guy who wants to meet the captain on the ship I’m cruising on. I sit on the first car of the train just in case I have to assume driving duties in the event of an emergency. I even look at the speedometer when riding with someone else. You expect me to sit back and relax while Silicon Valley directs my route? I think not. My teenage years were spent anxiously awaiting my turn to press the accelerator and turn the wheel. Now you’re telling me that my children will borrow the car and the only thing we will have in common is sitting behind the wheel?

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I once wrote an article that argued against flying cars because of the business behind rubber and the infrastructure needed to get cars in the air (see “Drivers or Pilots“). I also wrote a piece about how driver distraction is not to be blamed totally on the car, but the discipline of the driver (see “Are We Making Too Much Of It: Driver Distractions“). I pose a combined form of those same arguments here. The self-driving car is a distraction as well as an industry-killer.

An autonomous car will certainly do away with the “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” mantra in NASCAR. It will also reduce track days to a past time of old men. Certainly, no automaker will do away with driver input altogether, but you have to think that driver-less cars would have a profound effect on motorsports and the thrill of driving.

2. We’re gonna do all manner of evil.

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In addition to our nails, makeup and text messages, we will now have more time to read, talk on the phone, watch Netflix and eat. That is, if we’re lucky. With every norm in society, there is an abnormal element. Criminal activity will rise (drive-by shootings, hit and runs, etc.) as people leave the task of driving to the car itself, unsavory characters will be able to focus on their evil plans.

We will also have time for intimacy. Our grandparents went to places like Lookout Point and Eagle Bluff to have a remote make-out spot. With self-piloting cars, all we need to do is put a heavy tint on the window and set the program for the slow lane. All jokes aside, what sort of activities will the human mind come up with in the absence of that pesky chore called driving.

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We certainly won’t give up total control of the car, but it is something to think about. Level-4 and Level-5 autonomous systems are not going to be optional equipment on your new 2017 Hyundai Sonata, so don’t worry just yet. However it is something we need to consider as we groom our culture for cars with proprietary systems.  I’ve thought about it and now I’m exhausted. I’m gonna take a nice relaxing drive in the car. I guess it’ll be more relaxing when it drives itself, right?

What would you do in a self-driving car instead of driving?

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