The Car Has Taken the Kids – Parenting in the Future

There have been plenty of discussions on the adoption of autonomous vehicles.  Often, these topics depend on one assumption:  these decisions are made by reasonable, functioning adults, but what about its relationship to travel for our children.  There is a need to discuss this emerging topic, but it seems forgotten in the “hysteria” surrounding adopting the technology. And when I did some research on this topic, it remains a large gap, as suggested by Ben Morris. 

Wired Magazine published a short six-word story in wired 27.06 on a future parenting dilemma.  The story “The Car Has Taken The Kids” got my mind racing.  Here is the page, scanned here for comment purposes only, and unfortunately, I could find no way to link back to this image on the Wired Website.)

Page from Wired Magazine – used for comment purposes

 

There have been many questions about the future of autonomous vehicles, mostly focusing on adoption of regulations, permits, etc., but what is the social acceptance of autonomous cars as related to parenting?

So, here are some things that concerned me about the topic:

A.  At what age should a child travel alone in an autonomous car:

  • I assume we would let unaccompanied children ride in a car when they are five years old, as is the case with airline travel.  However, that oversight may be waived for short distances to visit family or for childcare purposes.  Over time, that boundary may change if convenience wins out over safety.   
  • But that raised a different question, do we still need a driver’s license?   Over time, the age of receiving a driver’s license has increased, but everyone is riskiest during their first year of driving. 

 B.  And where would you send your kids in the autonomous car:

  • There will be a desire to send children to visit family, such as grandparents, or aunts and uncles.  Regarding divorced couples, the autonomous car may prevent disagreements over parental visits, as there is a clear time log when the child left one parent for the other. 
  • Do we send the kids in autonomous cars for childcare or after school activities?  So, the parents do not necessarily have to do these trips, but there will still be a vehicle in the traffic stream, and there may or may not be carpooling!
  • School? Would this create more backup around the unloading lines, or would this be faster than parent yelling “I love you”, “Did you forget”, etc.?  But would that cut down on bullying if kids are not on a bus?

 C.  And how far could you send your children?

  • 0.01 mile: to the bus stop, to get the mail?
  • 1.0 mile: Elroy and Judy had short drops off at school. (Click here for the singalong!)
  • 6 miles: New Orleans, LA to Jefferson, LA
  • 79 miles: New Orleans, LA to Baton Rouge, LA
  • 135 miles: New Orleans, LA to Lafayette, LA
  • 348 miles: New Orleans, LA to Houston, TX  (There are direct flights, so one could simply have the car drive to the airport (14 miles from New Orleans to Kenner.)

(The following map is from Rand McNally)

There so many concerns over what is a safe distance for a child to “roam”.  That discussion has spurred some legal actions, such as in Utah.  Adding unaccompanied minors in an autonomous car will raise that question again, similar to the comments made about the mother who let her son ride the subway.

D.  How will parents know their children will be safe?

  • Do we put bio engineering safeguards in place, such as voice activation?
  • Should parents have to report this to police/traffic centers if the child is going over a certain distance?
  • Can there exist feedback loops and apps for the parents and the expected party to monitor the vehicle (temperature, speed, location, fuel, potty breaks)?
  • What if the vehicle makes a wrong turn?
  • Who would be able to respond in time to ensure the child’s safety? 
  • Will this require some group to geocode the entire trip, and if so, who monitors that movement?
  • What would prevent the kid from “stealing” the car, once they know how the “car” works? 
  • Who bears the liability for that decision if something failed?

E.  Will this movement result in more or less traffic, or influence parking/land use?

  • Will the car be parked while waiting, such as at school or other events?
  • Will the car return to the parents, and then move back to get the child? 
  • Will these put additional empty miles on the network or will the car become a commodity/resource consumed in the “shared economy”?

There will be a point when people will accept young children in autonomous vehicles, but it will be slow process, one of the points raised by Dr. Tremoulet.   This raised another question concerning activity to Virtual Reality, “do children even need to go anywhere?”.  In Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt”, where the children play in a virtual reality world, which results in the death of the parents.     

No one will say that chauffeuring kids around is a task that could not be automated, but there may also be something that is lost, TIME.   My kids may not have appreciated their parents driving them around, and we all have complained about operating a “taxi service”, but that driving reinforced our family bonds.  A bond that was strengthened mile by mile on road trips, to\from swim meets, or running errands.  We all have road trip stories, although they may not be as dramatic as driving the car off the road, as in Family Vacation!

 

Visiting the Port of Zeebrugge

While attending a course on Maritime Supply Chains at the University of Antwerp, we visited the Port of Zeebrugge.

There is a saying that if you see one port, you have seen them all. Others will say, if you see one port, you have only seen one port. I would add when you see one port, you see one port for that day, as traffic patterns can change quite a bit. That was the issue here, as several presenters discussed the lower traffic in the port was the result decline after a surge of cargo moved to Britain prior to the last Brexit deadline.

After a great introductory presentation, we drove around the port, which handles a lot of autos! We first toured the facilities in the morning, while it rained, only to see it clear up later that day.

One auto storage facility, we saw in the afternoon! No rain!
Yes, typical bus tour in the rain! Notice the cranes, COSCO shipping will move to Zeebruggee, but there was little international containers when compared to the containers moving to/from Britain.
We even watched a ship pass the sealock outside the port administration building.

The question of Brexit remained a constant topic. The Port of Zeebrugge is a major gateway between Europe and the United Kingdom. Traffic through Zeebrugge remains integrated into supply chains for British retailers, even to the point of handling larger trucks, which are allowed in the UK, but not in the EU.

It was a great visit, hearing the presenters talk about importing fresh fruit, how interdependent the UK was for EU firms stocking their shelves, and how the port itself developed. (There is a lot of rail in Zeebrugee. They can build European block trains at the port.)

Intermodal trains at the Port of Zeebrugee

It was a great visit, but at the end of a long day, sometimes you are just ready to take the bus back!

What If the Horseshoe Falls Off?

There is the old nursery rhyme about how a kingdom is lost because a horseshoe falls off.  The poem refers to paying attention to little things that can make a difference, as the casual relationship of minor things failing can evolve into major problems (the Space Shuttle Colombia is but one of many examples). While one could argue its importance on military logistics or other more mundane tasks (such as learning the basics when mastering any skill), the same logic could be applied to not only the development of data but to data applications.

In the age of “Big Data”, we see where more information can provide insights that were unavailable just five years ago. The use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will transform how we collect, manage and process data, providing insights that will assist researchers and decision makers. However, the casual relationships between collecting/using data with any unintended consequences remain.

For example, one could argue that I represent three people: a physical me who eats, sleeps and walks around, while there is a legal me, who signs legal documents and has financial interests. There is an emerging digital me, where I live and work in a virtual world. My information is collected, processed, and analyzed, as I become “a product” sold to others. In many ways, the data collected from millions of digital actions are creating better horseshoe nails for business, governments and others, but will this lead us to lose the kingdom of our individualism?

Why Does Adopting New Information Take So Long?

do we know the question?

As a researcher, I have often heard people lament, “We studied this in the past and nothing was done”, or “Why are we not using this approach”, or some variation concerning the fact that data and information are not being used after the being developed, purchased, or studied.  The question is that we think, using our crystal ball, we have built a masterpiece, and wonder why people don’t adopt our insights.  We often forget that this “knowledge” could be slow to be adopted by others for many reasons.

Failure of adoption:

  • The first is simply the WHY?  Sometimes when doing research we understand more about the question that the person who needs the answer.  So while we prepare our work, we forget our client will only use what they can understand with some level of confidence.  How often have we seen a more senior person misspeak based on information not properly summarized for them?
  • Secondly, there remains the ever consuming “tyranny of the urgent”, in that the research is needed in a timely manner, but the research is not needed beyond the “now”.  The reasons can vary from staff turnover, policy change, new leadership, the findings were not what was expected, to a thousand different reasons.  Furthermore, data is perishable, something that is often forgotten by the researcher, but not the client.
  • Thirdly, the experts may not agree with your opinions.  My wife is a fan of Downton Abbey, and during season 3, Sybil Branson died after childbirth.  The tragedy was there were two doctors arguing over her treatment, and the older doctor stated to the other doctor he is to not interfere.  In many ways, we can find people with good intentions failing to achieve an expected outcome because they are using older models from the past.  They remain uncommitted to learn, and without the application of new information, their working knowledge could, and does, fail, in providing actionable insights, or even providing the wrong information.  Presenting this expert with new information may only lead them to become more entrenched to their position.
  • Finally, our research may not actually answer the question being asked!

I suspect the following challenges will remain with us for a long time, based on  NCHRP Active Implementation: Moving Research into Practice, posted at http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/docs/NCHRP_ActiveImplementation.pdf.

For the research community, the ghost of people not adopting our great ideas haunts the adoption of our “great efforts”.  But we must understand what the client may do with the research once it has been delivered, which may depend upon how we communicate before, during and after the research process!

Crossing over the U.S-Mexican Border

Recently, Teen Vogue highlighted how crossing the U.S. border remains a daily reality for most people. The author focused on four stories: travel for work, school, shopping and family, although there are other reasons, such as medical or tourism. The article sited a Bureau of Transportation Statistics website which complied numbers, mode and locations crossings into the United States. And BTS does not report illegal crossings…that is Customs and Border Protection’s information.

So in 2018, the largest U.S. crossings with Mexico are shown on the following map

So, there are a few crossings in Southern California, El Paso, and the lower Rio Grande Valley with the largest passenger crossings, mostly by automobile or walking. The largest bus crossings are in Laredo, but the largest Pedestrian and automobile crossings occurred in San Ysidro and El Paso.

No one simply travels across the border just to say, “well I was in “so-and-so””, (well, unless you are interested in joining the Traveler’s Century Club.) Sometimes, we forget that for each data point, there is a reason why someone wanted to enter the United States. But for local and national groups, it is just as important to know the total number and location of how people entered the United States to assist in planning infrastructure and operational needs or to quantify the border’s economic contribution activity.

Notes:

How the graph was created: Downloaded a custom table from BTS Border Crossing Database, converted the file into Excel to fix the geography, and than imported in Tableau.

Related databases:
The BTS information does not include passenger flights, which are reported here

There is some information on commercial freight traffic, such as trains and trucks,which is presented below for 2018. For a fuller comparison of commercial freight transportation across the borders, go TransBorder Freight Data.

Thoughts on Sharing a Cross-Country Drive in 2050!

Summer is coming upon us. As a nation, we hit the open road for vacations or road trips.   Traveling brings some unexpected pleasures (such as the Grand Tetons during sunrise, or driving in the Ozarks during a summer lightening storm) but also the agonizing delays (one of which was a distributor cap that fell off a rental truck in central Texas at 3 am).  For much of us, a summer trip shared with family and friends remains a beloved memory.

In 2015, I drive my daughter’s stuff cross-country. I flew out to Oregon, rented a straight truck, and once we were loaded, drove from Oregon to Louisiana. I made a few stops along the way, such as visiting Winslow Arizona for a photo at a corner and Albuquerque, where I ate a burrito at Twisters, the restaurant that served as “Los Pollos Hermanos” in the “Breaking Bad” franchise. (And yes, some woman ran in, took a lot of pictures, and left.. Tourist!) The irony is that for most of the ride, my daughter’s dog sat as I slogged through conference calls, audio books and podcasts.

That was the last cross-country trip I made from the West Coast.

If I redid this five day trip in 2050, it would probably be a different trip.

  • For example, if I rented a truck from UHaul, Penske or Ryder, would the truck be partially or fully autonomous?  Would we have loaded the truck, only to watch the truck take off without any passengers to a destination?  Would I be able to ride with the stuff, although I will just another item on the manifest?
  • Could I tell the vehicle I want to make a side trip, stopping along the way to catch vistas, tourist traps, or whatever catches my fancy?  (My daughter still laughs about one trap where we ate breakfast at 20 years ago!) 
  • Would I even remember how to drive, especially if all I did for the next thirty years would be to drive an autonomous small car, a la Mr. Incredible?
  • Would my daughter have even owned as much stuff, or even wanted it moved cross-country?  For example, in a shared economy, what would people own outright?  Would some of what we loaded and moved would have instead been 3d printed while we were going cross-country, or new rentals waiting for us at our destination?  

In 2050, I think I will probably be sitting like Zoe, staring out the window, unconnected to the road or the journey (much like this girl in the video).  In many ways, one could argue that a last frontier, the open road, may be transformed into something different from the experience that captivated Walt Whitman.  He closed his poem, “Song of the Open Road”, with the following challenge.

     Camerado, I give you my hand!

     I give you my love more precious than money,

     I give you myself before preaching or law;

     Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?

     Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?

 
I agree with Walt Whitman. A journey shared is always better, even with a  dog!

Joining a Panel on “Conceptualizing the Economic Impacts of a Mississippi River Avulsion”

I hope you can join me at  Challenges of Natural Resource Economics and Policy
6th National Forum on Socioeconomic Research in Coastal Systems


May 19-21, 2019 • New Orleans, LA • Royal Sonesta Hotel

The Mississippi River is normally considered to be a fixed entity.  Old Man River just keeps Rollin’ and Rollin’, but really the river is a dynamic entity, creating and responding to the environment through which it flows.  There have been many discussions regarding the Mississippi River and especially the Lower Mississippi River, as a international corridor.  The supply chains that depend upon the River are many, but so too is the socio-economic relationship of the river to the region.  I hope to do more with this work, as there is much to explore concerning supply chain risks and understanding the associated response to large asymmetrical events. (I gave a similar presentation to the New Orleans Regional Planning Council Freight Roundtable a few years ago.)  I would love to hear any comments you have on this topic, as I plan to do more research along this line. 

Here is the draft session agenda, but you can access the full agenda here. http://www.cnrep.lsu.edu/2019/index.htm

Conceptualizing the Economic Impacts of a Mississippi River Avulsion (Draft Agenda)


Tuesday, May 21, 2019
1:30 am to 3 pm

Moderator:  
Lynn Kennedy, Louisiana State University

Discussion Panel

James Barnet, Mississippi Department of Archives and History (retired)  
Patrice Lazard, Louisiana State University  
Bruce Lambert, Metro Analytics  
Chris Mclindon, New Orleans Geological Society  
Michael Miner, Water institute of the Gulf  
TBA    

Attached is an image from the New Orleans Board of Trade, which I hope you find is an interesting graphic.

My Presentation at the Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis

For those who do not know, I am a PhD Candidate in Applied Economics at the University of Antwerp, so trying to understand the state of the art regarding Benefit-Cost Analysis is important to my research work. (I joined the Society for Benefit Cost Analysis last year.)

The Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis held their annual meeting in Washington, DC last week. There were some great presentations, (although I missed quite a few because of overlapping panels), but I did find James Scouras‘ presentation titled “Analytical Challenges Surrounding Analyses of Nuclear War”, very engaging.

I made a presentation on my PhD work Thursday afternoon, Session 3G, “Transportation on Waterways: Keeping Afloat using BCA”. Our Discussant, Joe Devlin, said the session should have been called “Big boats are fickle, fragile, and frustrated”.

My other panelists presented some very interesting work. Tim Skeel discussed how he proposed changing bridge closures in Seattle based on the value of time and normalized shipping activity. (The study examined how to change operations on a bridge built in 1910 for today’s traffic conditions.) He did a very through job on showing how these changes would benefit Seattle commuters, but the Coast Guard was not interested in changing their bridge hours. Tim was followed by Douglas Scheffler, U.S. Coast Guard, on estimating the safety benefits of deploying the Physical Oceanic Real Time System, PORTS. Doug’s presentation showed how to evaluate physical deployment of monitoring systems to assist the maritime community. Oftentimes, safety becomes “assumed away”, as how does one count for what may or may not happen.

My presentation and PhD largely centers around the question of managing investment risk in ports for large infrastructure projects. The topic has interested me for years, as evident by many of my presentations over the years. The discussion could be summed up by the slide, where the horizontal is the public sector space and the vertical is the private sector.

The outline:
Ports need different types of infrastructure investment
There are public and private sector actors involved in port projects
Port Capacity dictates a ports competitive advantage, so growth remains the perpetual goal
Sensitively in the forecast provides some risks to the infrastructure owner
The Port Prioritization Program in Louisiana
My Research Methodology (factor analysis and Monte Carlo Simulations)

After the presentations were finished, Joe Devlin and Henrik Andersson, chair, led a very engaged back and forth between the panelists and the audience. So, thanks to those people who attended the session and engaged in a great dialogue!

There was quite a lot of discussion on this chart from the European Union regarding Cost Benefit Analysis.

I am looking forward to submitting an update on this work next year (although presenting at the Society for Benefit Cost Analysis European Conference sounds interesting…)

So, over the next few months I will begin getting more into the data/analysis as I work on my PhD!

Does Counting Matter

I am reminded of this Peanuts cartoon. Linus tells Lucy not to count the snowflakes for he already knows the answer. (We can argue that maybe Linus is a seasoned researcher, but I’m sure he was outside earlier doing what Lucy was doing.)


And what is counting, but simply putting a sequence such as “1, 2, 3,…”.  I could type any number on a keyboard and generate data.  When we look at data, sometimes we can get so absorbed in knowing a number that we forget why knowing a number matters.  What benefit is it for Linus or Lucy to know the numbers of snowflakes? No one measures a single snowflake, but rather snowflakes, as the aggregate matters.  For example, one snowflake weighs nothing, but too many can collapse a roof.

There remains a need to count and observe the world, and I am guilty of looking for data when I do research.  So, statistical and data approaches are warranted to make sure we have sound information to make a decision.  While it is easy to measure snowflakes or other actions, sometimes transportation and economic data is not as clearly observed.  Understanding what is needed to be known helps us see the world before we go outside to count snowflakes.

What Will You Drink Today…

A few weeks ago, I made a presentation for a class at the University of New Orleans. As with a lot of my general freight speeches, I start with the following question.

For the few paying attention, most talk about water, tea, soft drinks and coffee. Eventually someone brings up beer or wine, which always gets a laugh, but the irony is most people do not think about their ability to access something safe to drink. As we have expectations regarding its cost, taste, and general characteristics, we have some general idea regarding our willingness to purchase a coke at a vending machine or a soft drink at a fast food restaurant. Oftentimes, we do not think about what it took to get that product, to that place, at that time, for you to make the purchase decision. Someone designed the bottle, made the beverage and filled the bottle, only for it to be carried to that location. It was logistics that took the beverage from the plant to where you are now.

So, as you enjoy your purchase, just stop and think that there was more to this purchase, namely that the distribution/transportation system works so well we do not marvel about drinking something that literally came from around the world, or in some magical place, as in this Coca Cola Ad.