Sunday, September 1, 2013

Driving the Future

The First Soccer Mom

Putting children in a car alone and sending them to a destination will be the ultimate test of our confidence in driverless technology, and parents are not known to be first adopters. But mobility is an ever more essential component of child rearing and puts ever greater demands on parents, especially mothers.

Technology will never bring an end to gender issues, but it certainly can add to the confusion. Driving kids around may not approach hand-washing clothes for sheer drudgery (even men will do the driving when asked),  but it is still a job that falls primarily to women. And we shouldn't underestimate the effect this task has on gender equality, and the difficulty it creates for a significant number of parents to hold full time positions or advance a careers.

Even before driverless systems become ubiquitous, safer streets may result in a renaissance of neighborhood children at play. Even a moderately efficient system would result in fewer cars cutting through neighborhoods, and semi-autonomous safety features would diminish pedestrian accidents.

It's  fairly easy to see how such a system would have to function, with driverless vehicles returning kids to their parents if trusted parties are not verifiably at their destination. Safety would have to be absolute, perhaps with child occupied vehicles given privileged right of way and extended safety buffers.

Of course, no reason the parents can't still ride along......

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Next Great Turn of the Wheel

Change is coming.  Over the next 25 years driverless vehicles will begin to transform the way we live, work, and organize our urbanizing world. It derives from the revolutionary nature of new tools available to us,  and may provide us with a unique opportunity to re-balance the relationship between nature and technology.

A Revolution, again. The transition to driverless vehicles will have recognizable similarities with past transitions in the ways we move ourselves, and our things, across the surface of the earth. Disruptive, comprehensive, and inexorable it is a process of change that began with walking and will continue to have profound and far-reaching effects.

The combination of pre-existing technologies with more recent innovations are often at the heart of important changes in transportation. In this case one of the most productive technological lineages in human history, the wheel, is being combined with the emerging power of the computer. Not since the replacement of muscle power with mechanical sources has there been such a fundamental shift. For the first time in history the wheel is being provided with an independent guidance system, with a capacity for reliability and efficiency that far exceeds the human capacities.

Hop in, what could go wrong?
This blog will explore some of the processes underlying this change, keep an eye on emerging events, and  discuss possible implications.  This subject will only get increasing attention as the technology develops. But there is a lot more to it than meets the eye, and I hope that by understanding the change and where it comes from we can take advantage of the opportunities ahead of us. As well as avoid some of the pain that inevitably derive from this disruptive transformation.