The February 2012 issue of Wired Magazine features a cover story about cars that drive themselves. No longer a technology of the future, these cars are actually here already, navigating themselves through busy rush hour freeway traffic at 70 miles per hour. And they’re doing it more safely than the human beings around them.
These cars utilize everything from radar to laser arrays to identify and track targets around them, and they can make 20 threat assessments every second. Recently, I had a high school class take a hazard perception challenge in which I showed them a slide for four seconds and then asked them three questions about what they saw. Whines and grumbles flared up with the first question, as students complained that that wasn’t enough time. I then showed them several video clips in which unrecognized threats turned into crashes in less than two seconds – the idea being to reinforce how every second counts when driving for survival.
But, 20 threat assessments each second? If there’s a human mind capable of matching that, I’ve never been in its company.
I’m one of those people who loves to drive. I prefer a standard transmission to an automatic and would rather be on a curvy mountain road alone than on a crowded freeway. But I’m keenly aware most people don’t share my passion for it. Most people use their car simply to get them from one place to another as quickly as possible. For them, automatic transmissions, power steering, ABS, electronic stability control and even automated parallel parking are welcome conveniences, elements of the driving task they are happy to hand over to computer control.
Nevada has become the first state to pass laws concerning self-driving cars – they’re exempt from anti-texting laws, for one. As the Wired author puts it, “Maybe the problem is not that texting and Facebook are distracting us from driving. Maybe the problem is that driving distracts us from our digital lives.”
Read the full WIRED article online here.
What would you prefer?
Would you rather sign off from your digital world for an hour at a time and tackle the physical and cognitive tasks required to drive safely, or would you prefer to select your destination and let the car handle getting you there while you multitask through your commute?