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Tech Talk

You aren’t behind the wheel of your future

10/5/2016

The auto industry appears to be one of the hardest markets to get people excited about regarding tech enhancements. Notoriously, the electric automobile looked to become a real breakthrough in the mid-1990s with celebrities like Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks and Jay Leno raving about their fossil-fuel-free autos, only to have the oil- and car-making conglomerates scrap the concept wholesale.tech

In 2014, a minor buzz rang out about Apple entering the dashboard software market with “Carplay,” a system that basically integrated the iPhone world of apps into a car’s computer system. Somehow, Apple failed to revolutionize the auto industry. The latest high-profile tech foray into car manufacturing may be the most divisive: self-driving cars.

If the tired adage “guns don’t kill people, people do,” carries any truth, “cars don’t crash themselves” should be a constitutional amendment. The entire car insurance industry is based around the idea that drivers are the real point of failure, not the vehicle. Cars definitely break down and occasionally fail to respond to driver commands, but nearly all collisions come from driver error. Driver’s education is almost entirely geared around building a foundation of driver etiquette, understanding the rules of the road and becoming comfortable operating a complicated piece of machinery. Imagine if all those variables were loosened — or potentially erased. That is the promise of self-driving cars.

Apple, Google, Ford, Chevy, Toyota, Tesla and many more are racing to pioneer the technology of cars that stir, drive and navigate themselves. Beyond removing drivers from the equation, self-driving cars would be a tech cash cow. All of a sudden, cars become entertainment centers for passengers, with gaming, movies, music, work stations, teleconferencing, and you name it. Once cars become autonomous, a ride in one basically turns into relaxing in a moving living room.

Of course, self-driving cars have a long way to go before entirely removing the driver from the situation. As of 2016, self-driving cars require drivers to be sitting in the traditional driver’s seat, prepared to take over any self-driving functions at a moment’s notice. Just this summer, this technology received a giant amount of negative PR when a Telsa in self-driving mode was involved in a fatal collision. The car’s sensors, which normally guided the car based on white road marks and surrounding objects, was having trouble sensing cars due to sunlight reflections and missed a car directly in front of it. Immediate fallout from the crash had some calling for scrapping self-driving tech. However, for those who understand how technology works, the crash actually resulted in a much-needed test case to improve the software and sensor technology. With that crash data, all Tesla cars were immediately updated with how to overcome sensor glare.

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Wholesale changes will be coming to road travel. Uber is chomping at the bit to fire its drivers; taxis and buses would much more pleasant without drivers; and semis and delivery trucks could be driving point A to point B with far fewer interventions by driving dispositions. Basically, millions of driving jobs will be erased in no time at all, and we’ll all be safer for it. The self-driving car wave looks to be a tech revolution the auto industry can’t avoid.

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.

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