High Tech & Discrimination

Walking behind a self-propelled mower for roughly three-quarters of an acre on a humid 98-degree Coastal GA day — not complaining, just setting the scene — with my iPod and frequent water breaks provides perhaps too much time for free-association thinking.  I’m channeling Hedley Lamarr from Blazing Saddles: “My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.”

Designing a product improvement in my head for the mower, my thoughts cascaded into the possibility of an automatic mower guided by a joystick or GPS.  Like the iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaner, Scooba floor scrubber and Braava floor mopper.  The slid into my favorite innovation, the driverless car.  I’ve never been one who had to be “the first,” but having the first driverless car in GA is near  the top of my bucket list.  My own KITT.  And if that reference is obtuse, you weren’t a Knight Rider.

My student millennials discount the concept out of hand, although they accept the reality and practicality of drones being flown against targets in the Middle East by military personnel sitting in a building in Nevada.

Driverless cars have been successfully tested for thousands of miles, from coast to coast, and are street legal in two states.  The main problem with driverless cars?  HUMAN DRIVERS in OTHER cars.   Last month, according to a New York Times story, a Google driverless car approached a crosswalk and stopped to let someone cross.  It was rear-ended by the car behind it with a HUMAN driver.  Another driverless car wouldn’t have made that mistake.

The benefits of driverless cars are tremendous.  First and foremost, it takes the human element out of a dangerous activity.  No more driving tension, worrying about what the idiot behind the wheel of another car is going to do or is distracted by or impaired from.  No more speeding tickets, accidents, having a city with the longest commute due to traffic jams.  No more driver’s license exams or road tests.  No surrendering my license when I’m 90.  No more human-driven taxi cabs or Uber, chauffeurs or charter buses.

The ability to enjoy the scenery or work or text or relax or sleep while traveling.  Meals using both hands with your favorite alcoholic beverage.

I daydream while refueling my mower about being able to program my car to take me to work, go home by itself, pick up the grandkids at school at 3:30, bring them to my office and then drive us home while we play the latest video game.  Or send it to a store or restaurant to pick up something I’d ordered on the internet.

Driverless semis are also being tested and predicted to be on the road before driverless cars.  No more human error which can kill five Georgia Southern nursing students because the driver was allegedly too tired to react quickly enough to stopped traffic.  The impact for logistics is incalculable.

There is a downside.  Stoplights and road signs won’t be needed, which will eliminate the sign industry and need for DOT road crews.  Tickets won’t be written for driving offenses, which will take those revenues out of city and county budgets, and make court clerks and courts unnecessary.  Radar gun companies will lose a major client base.  There’ll be fewer ambulances, EMTs and fire personnel, trauma centers and life flights for vehicle injuries.  Truck drivers, way stations and personnel, truck stops and hitching, and CBs will be historical artifacts.    Taxi and Uber drivers will be out of work.

On the upside, policewo/men, deputies and state patrol will be able to concentrate on crime and prevention.  Firefighters will be able to concentrate on fires and prevention.  Emergency medical personnel and facilities will be able to concentrate on other traumas.  There’ll be a whole new series of career fields for people to design, build and maintain the systems and the vehicles.

Thought cascaded again and realized that I may “haue shufflel’d off this mortall coile” before KITT could be acquired.

OK.  Cascading thought.  How about a car without a steering wheel?  One with a joystick with hand controls for shifting, turning, accelerating, braking?  They’re legal and available.  The only setback: they’re for handicapped drivers.  And here I thought the ADA was the American DISABILITIES Act, not the American HANDICAPPED Act.

Turns out the Act discriminates against someone who’s not disabled.  I could drive a car without using my feet or both hands.  Do it all the time with cruise control and one hand holding my cell phone or on race car games.

Hmmmm. . . . .