Monday, July 7, 2014

Cruise Control...

A few weeks back I discussed the concept of the driverless car. After rumination this weekend, there is no way in Hell that this is ever going to work. You see, I drove back to MA this weekend to see the family (families, actually). 9+ hours each way in Fourth of July* traffic has taught me that humanity is not ready for the computer-controlled automobile.

I doubt it ever will be.

You know what opened my eyes to this revelation? I gave it away in the title. Yes, cruise control. When I wasn't gnashing my teeth in traffic, I generally had the cruise control set to prevent the inevitable "IF I HIT 120 MPH WE CAN BE THERE IN FOUR HOURS" that sets in. We also have GPS, so I have independent verification of the vehicle's speed.

When the same car passes you four times in 15 minutes, that's how you know we're not ready for automated cars.

Now, this isn't to say that the technology isn't ready (or couldn't be, someday). I still think that a "computer-controlled lane" of some sort would work, assuming that you could exclude all human-controlled vehicles and had some sort of "quality control" to sort out cars in poor mechanical shape and such. With run-flat tires and on-board management it should be pretty simple to avoid blow-outs; with the engine computer it should be pretty easy to weed out cars that have (or might have) mechanical difficulties.

Imagine that: You might get a check-up for your car just by trying to use the "computer only" lane...

The thing is, in the end, no system is going to be perfect. The big question is whether computer-controlled cars will cause less fatalities than human-controlled. I think we've got an inkling as to the answer just in anti-lock brakes - your car's on-board computer can engage and disengage the brakes so fast they don't lock up and lose traction, whereas that overwhelming majority of people cannot. Computers don't get fatigued, or distracted, or inebriated. That in an of itself is a major bonus.

Once we determine that computer-controlled cars cause fewer accidents than human-controlled, I think it might be possible to gain greater acceptance. I think that mixing the two would be the worst idea in the long, sad history of bad ideas** There are just too many variables at play when a perfect computer is thrown into the mix with imperfect humans.

At least as things currently stand.

That is all.

*Yes, I did it that way specifically to tweak Alan...

**Tip 'o' the keyboard to Jurassic Park


SJ said...

I think Lexus offers what it calls "adaptive cruise control".

You set a speed and a following distance, and the cruise-control system will keep the speed, unless traffic up ahead slows it down.

It's a little closer to computer-controlled driving than plain cruise is.

However, it still needs the driver to maintain the car in the lane.

That task is harder to automate.

Don't know what the future of self-driving cars is. But I'll bet we will both be surprised by some part of that future.

Anonymous said...

Computer controlled has the advantage of stopping this kind of idiot. I was moving my son to a new job. A car pulled between his car and mine from the on ramp forcing my son to hit his brakes. The car followed me a short distance at my speed and then pulled over into the acceleration lane to pass me. Since the acceleration lane had ended at that point I was forced into the next lane which was entirely empty. The car got back in front of me and continued on at my speed.

Not sure I'm OK with the idea of driverless cars but in his case I'd be glad to make an exception.

Farmee said...

The 101 is closed today as coroners clean up another Stuxnet jam...

Geodkyt said...

I think anticollision sensors and software overrides are the next step to computer controlled cars.

But I still think they'll never get to as tight a dense pack at high speeds as the tech cheerleaders think. Mechanical things DO fail, catastrophically, and even with real time condition monitoring, fail-safer features like run flat tires, etc., a momentary and minor (but still catastrophic to a dense pack formation) deviation from plan can still result.

And that's still presuming the software doesn't glitch, especailly after an update refresh or Zero Day exploit.

Borepatch said...

Farmee beat me to it. Security won't be an afterthought, it won't be thought of at all.

.45ACP+P said...

Drives me crazy, there I am cruising (Truely: Cruise control engaged) and a car passes me then I pass it (by now they are on the phone) then they pass me again and lather rinse repeat! My speed never varied significantly but their's did.

Angus McThag said...

You know, they already have a nearly automated system doing what they claim that this will do.

It's called a railroad...


I'm here all day, try the veal.