|HANDS OFF THE WHEELS: Do all else except drive
My hometown of Chicago is extremely quiet and boring in February with the exception of two events.
The first is a massive surprise snowstorm that will begin precisely at 7am, just as thousands of commuters are headed to work. The blizzard will taper off around noon, but, like the eye of a hurricane, return with a vengeance several hours later. By this time everybody has reached their offices, only to discover they are closed for the day and there is nothing else to do except turn around and head home.
The second is the Chicago Auto Show, a spectacle that brings masses of car enthusiasts to McCormick Place, where they gawk at the latest and greatest automobiles, most of which are identical to last years models except with higher sticker prices due to one upgraded feature, typically a sturdier cup holder.
I attend the Auto Show whenever Im in the market for a new car. This is in sharp contrast to most Auto Show attendees, who go merely to get out of the cold. Once inside, they can also feast on $8 hot dogs and have their pictures taken with bikini-clad women who make their living saying, Things get hot and heavy, when Im inside my Chevy 48 times per day. This year, however, I will be attending for a different reason. Our society is getting ever so close to a new form of transportation and I want to make sure its designed correctly.
Im talking about the driverless car.
No, thats not a misprint. General Motors, Audi, Volkswagen and BMW are among the manufacturers that envision the day when cars will drive themselves, leaving occupants free to do whats really important in a vehicle: composing text messages and applying make-up. Also hoping to catch a piece of the autonomous car market is none other than Google, whose top geeks have apparently finished compiling information on everything in existence and are now seeking new challenges. Search driverless car on YouTube (http://youtu.be/bp9KBrH8H04) and marvel as Google fellow and former Stanford University professor Sebastian Thrun explains how a prototype car sans driver recently drove 1,40,000 miles while stopping at toll booths, parallel parking, avoiding deer and even navigating the crooked streets of San Francisco. Ive already shown the video to my 14-year-old daughter and said she will face similar tests when she takes drivers education. (Might as well scare her now, right?)
I was disappointed that the video did not show the vehicle in a car-pool situation. My wife and I spend half our waking hours idling in driveways waiting for some kid to emerge from a house carrying a sports bag large enough to hold an acre of AstroTurf. The computer that operates the driverless car needs to know what awaits it. At this years Auto Show, I plan to seek out the engineers behind this technology and insist that autonomous cars are equipped with appropriate car-pooling features. Among my requests:
The car must be able to sense when one of the kids is darting through the house looking for cleats and notify everyone else, via text message, that the car pool is now running 8-10 minutes late. Might as well notify the opposing team, too.
The car must immediately emit a warning light when somebody in the rear seat drops a sandwich, thereby ensuring a cheese slice wont be discovered six months later.
The car must be immune to odours emitted when one occupant decides to remove a piece of equipment, a kneepad for instance, after practice. Until my kids started playing sports, I never realised knees could smell so bad.
The car must receive only one radio station: National Public Radio. With no driver in the front seat, whos going to keep the occupants from reaching forward and blasting the latest single from a foul-mouthed rapper?
Finally, the car must trust its on-board navigational system and not succumb to suggestions from the occupants such as, Turn left, I mean right, NO LEFT, I think thats my house and You just passed it.
Please notify me when these features are in place. Ill be at the Chevrolet booth, posing for a photo.
Greg Schwem is a stand-up comedian and author of Text Me If Youre Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad
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