I went for a spin in a driverless car the other day. My wife, the lovely Ms. Bancroft, feared I would never make it home alive.
FEAR OF DRIVERLESS VEHICLES
She has plenty of company in her fear of driverless vehicles. A majority of people in three recent surveys – 74 percent in one – said they wouldn’t ride in a driverless vehicle. And millennials who know a thing or two about technology by comparison to older generations said they are more unwilling to ride in one by a margin of 64 to 49 percent this year versus last. Yet, a majority of millennials think autonomous vehicles are safer than those with human drivers. Go figure.
I went for my ride in Frisco, Texas, a Dallas suburb. Drive.ai was the Silicon Valley company which offered the free ride. It’s scheduled to start driverless car service full-time in July. It will run a fleet of driverless cars following a set route from an office park on Dallas Parkway to The Star Center where the Dallas Cowboys hang out. No charge. Fixed pick-up and drop-off locations. There’s an app for calling for a pickup. There’s an app for everything, isn’t there? When you want a car, you go to the app and here it comes.
CARS HAVE WARNING SIGNAGE
The cars Drive.ai will use are bright orange Nissan NV200 vans. Bright orange so they’re easily seen. They have changeable signage on the front and sides to post warnings appropriate to the moment. “Waiting for you to cross,” for example. “Car moving, please wait,” or “Merging, please yield.” I didn’t see anyone paying much attention to the signs.
The service is a six-month pilot. The idea is to provide transportation between locations too far apart to walk but too close together to warrant bus service. In later stages of the project, the company hopes to “dump” the human backup driver and fill the seat with a human “chaperone” to help guide passengers through the service, according to Wired Magazine.
DRIVERLESS CARS WILL BE COMMON IN 15 YEARS
Many Americans think autonomous vehicles will be quite common in 15 years. But 74 percent say they don’t expect to have one and two-thirds say they wouldn’t want to walk or ride a bicycle anywhere near one, the Washington Post reported. Driverless cars are already starting to make money; Optimus Ride says it’s system in a small southern Massachusetts community is, said the Kiplinger Letter.
WHAT WAS MY RIDE LIKE?
So what was the ride like? It’s the first question people ask. My trip from one end to the other was about half a mile. We wound through multiple parking lots and along city streets once speeding at 35 mph before turning into the The Star center. I sat in the back seat where there was a monitor showing the various obstacles the car was navigating past. One car abruptly pulled in front of us, and the driveless car handled the crude behavior with aplomb, stopping in time. There was a real live human behind the wheel ready to hit the brakes if the car’s computer, the size of a desktop, hadn’t responded in time. Don’t know if it was a PC or a Mac. Bottom line, the ride was comfortable and uneventful. Sort of like riding with Uber.
BIG CHANGES AHEAD WITH DRIVERLESS CARS
What does all this talk and testing of driverless cars mean? Big changes in how we get around are on the way, but no one knows how or when they will play out or what to do about them. Kiplinger predicts new housing developments, universities, theme parks and large office parks like The Star will get them first.
But who will you sue if your driverless car crashes into your neighbor’s driverless car? Who gets arrested for speeding? How much money will we have to spend on roads? Will it take more or less time to get to work? Should I let the kids go in one alone? How much money will it cost to get my city ready?
FEW CITIES ARE PREPARING
While individuals and companies are moving forward, few cities are preparing for driverless cars. A handful, like Frisco, are the exceptions. Many government jurisdictions are avoiding the topics of autonomous vehicles, specifically, and “smart” cities and artificial intelligence, in general, out of fear. Fear that a few citizens will push back hard and so derail intelligent planning.
So what if you’re inclined to do the planning, how would you go about it? Linear approaches likely won’t work; futures thinking, using scenarios, is the best way. Scenarios allow for conjuring up and examining more alternatives. And they allow for keeping track of positive and negative signals for what is actually coming true.
WISH I HAD A DRIVERLESS CAR
By the way, my nerves are still steady following my driverless car experience. But I wish I had been in a driverless car on the way home. The traffic was miserable; it took an hour to travel what normally takes just 20 minutes. Hey, in a driverless car I could have been playing a video game!
Related case studies: