Having grown up in Los Angeles, I grew up loving cars. So I continue to read with some trepidation about self-driving cars.
I have grudgingly given up a manual transmission for an automatic, even on my pickup truck.
But to give up driving altogether in favor of a car that drives itself brings me both curiosity and sadness.
I am curious because of the freedom it gives people. No need to have a driver’s license to get around. No need to own a car … except for perhaps fun. No need to worry about car insurance or maintenance on vehicles. No need to have to stay awake on long drives or drives where I might be tired. That’s all pretty attractive.
I’m sad because I LIKE driving. I enjoy the feel of acceleration, going around curves, feeling the power of an engine and even hearing the sound of an engine. I find that when I’m driving, I’m seeing the scenery outside of my car and seeing new things. As a passenger, I have a very different experience than a driver and if a computer were driving the car, I think I’d be even more removed from the driving experience.
However, I consider it inevitable that we will have a lot of vehicles on the road within the next decade that will drive themselves. This includes large trucks as well as small personal vehicles.
Many companies are developing technologies that map the existing roadways as well as providing vehicles with the ability to recognize stripes on roads, people, bicycles, street lights and more.
The ability to handle the numerous exceptions, such as an object in the road (is it a plastic bag or a lump of ice?) are monumental. Furthermore, if objects are covered in snow, mud or simply gone due to construction or other changes, it a difficult challenge to know exactly what is around you.
Add to that the issues of weather: snow, ice, fog, rain and what happens when the vehicle gets a flat tire or something breaks?
All of these are issues that people deal with every day without thinking about it. Turning these into something that a computer can handle and address safely is an entirely different story.
What has surprised me is how fast the technology is coming together and will be readily available.
In another column, I will discuss some of the social changes that may result from autonomous vehicles. Until then, enjoy reading about how autonomous vehicles will be something we will easily see and use in our lifetime.
Mark Mathias is a 35-plus- year information technology executive and a resident of Westport. He can be contacted at livingwithtechnology