So I was reading through the new issue of Playboy magazine that came last week when I came upon an article entitled 15 Innovations That Will Change the World. Some pretty impressive ideas, but the one that stood out for me was “Robocars,” cars that drive themselves using sophisticated sensors, omni-directional video-cameras, radar detectors and advanced GPS systems.
But what really surprised me was this. “[A]dvocates say robocars will be ferrying many of us hither and yon by 2020. Most major car companies have an autonomous car division, crafting future driverless cars right now.” Holy crap, we’re only a decade away from robocars! Even with them most likely being too pricey initially for most people, give them another ten years after introduction for the price to come down, and that means a majority of us will be able to afford them. That would mean in just twenty years it’s conceivable few people will be doing their own driving anymore.
That could mean the end of drunk driving, mobile phone distractions and all manner of driver error accidents. It’s somewhat surprising given how much potential there is for robocars to virtually eliminate DUIs that the anti-alcohol groups have been completely silent about them. Instead, MADD is pushing the ridiculous ignition lock technology. Why aren’t they supporting robocars? Why aren’t they and the other non-profits supposedly committed to curbing drunk driving and keeping the roads safer funding research into the technology to make robocars a reality even sooner?
That’s not a rhetorical question, I really want to know why they’re not doing more to support robocar technology. Could it be so cynical a reason as it would make them irrelevant and make it almost impossible for them to raise money? If I’ve learned anything about non-profits lately it’s that they’ve become permanent institutions whose paid employees are actually no longer incentivized to carry out their organization’s mission to its conclusion because doing so would put themselves out of work in the process. When was the last time a disease or societal problem was actually solved and/or eradicated? Polio? Small Pox? Yet there are so many more non-profits compared to thirty plus years ago, when I was a kid. But the only thing they seem effective at is creating scary statistics and propaganda to make whatever the issue is as dire as possible and raising money.
But back to the Robocars, meet Junior:
Junior, a self-driving prototype, created using a mostly stock 2006 Volkswagen Passat, which is the same car I drive, though mine’s a few years older and doesn’t include an autopilot, sad to say.
VW is financing the creation of both Junior and his brother Stanley at Stanford’s Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Lab, and the car company is funding VAIL, too. The research center was dedicated last year.
Inside the back of Junior.
Inside the back seat of Junior.
And below is a video of one of Junior’s test drives.
Frankly, I can’t wait until the day I can stop driving and leave it to the computers. I’ll be able to drink more without having to worry at all, especially about the draconian laws associated with drinking and driving. They should be a thing of the past, though I imagine one or two groups will fight this new technology tooth and nail. Police and local governments will most likely hate this, because it will remove one of their biggest revenue streams. I’m willing to bet they’ll question the “safety” of the robot drivers and try to block their implementation as long as humanly possible.
But apart from that, this seems like it would be the proverbial win-win for everybody else. Brewers along with bars and restaurants that serve it would likely see a dramatic rise in business without the chilling effect of our current laws and lack of viable mass transit alternatives. In theory they could even save money by no longer having to spend marketing dollars on those “drive responsibly” campaigns.
MADD and the other anti-alcohol organizations should be in favor of it because it would literally eliminate drunk driving for everyone who purchases one of the Robocars. Unfortunately, I believe that some of the anti-alcohol folks, and especially MADD, are not really interested in stopping drunk driving, but instead have shifted their focus to eliminating alcohol altogether. Of course, that will also stop drunk driving, too, but at the expense of destroying so much more: the economy, people’s livelihoods, the health advantages of moderate drinking, quality of life and simply enjoying a drink.
But watching the actions and policy decisions of these groups for as long as I have, I honestly think they’d prefer that result to one which would actually eliminate needless deaths while keeping the alcohol industry intact and even benefiting its business. None that I’m aware of have ever done anything to encourage or support alternate modes of transportation such as building mass transit infrastructure as a way of keeping people who’ve been drinking off the roads. Between that and their silence on Robocars it makes it hard not to at least question their true motives. With the very real possibility that drunk driving could be eliminated 100% in just twenty years (or less) it seems reasonable to expect that supporting that technology would at least be part of their policy and/or strategy. That they don’t, I think, speaks volumes. Show me the Robocars!