In talking about automation, emerging technologies, telecommunications, Internet of Things, we are witnessing the evolution of “Smart Transportation”. And in many ways, they are correct, but for something to be smart, the implications that the current system is “dumb”. I don’t think “Smart” describes the complexity of transportation.
Transportation began with a man/woman carrying something from Point A to Point B. Seeing everyone in the tribe carrying their own materials, someone says “We could carry more if we lashed the object to a pole”. Together, they can now effectively carry more. The concept of efficiency, per-unit costs, time, etc., became more manageable as people understood transportation allowed for the construction of structures, the movement of food products, minerals, and ideas.
From a technology perspective, we harnessed the elements: wind drove our boats, fire forged the metals that become bolt, nails, airplanes. Over time, we learned to understand risks creating commercial laws/traditions that supported the movement of goods and people. Eventually, humans learned to use boats, animals, sleds, wheels, air, internal combustion engines, etc., each innovation requiring new technological knowledge to be gained and shared. (The history of the wheel!)
In that perspective, in the year 2525, some critics may talk about how simple “our smart technology” will appear. In their mind, today’s “smart innovations” will be the future’s “dumb” system that needs improvement.
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 Here is the page, scanned here for comment purposes only, and unfortunately, I could find no way to link back to this image on the Wired Website.)
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?
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!
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!