Computers Will Not Drive Cars Anytime Soon

We have all heard the talks of self driving cars. Most recently, journalists have written stories about the Google self driving cars that are traveling around northern California. Unfortunately, these journalists have never driven from Snow Camp to Siler City in the state of North Carolina. If they had, they would know there is no way computers will drive cars in the near future. Today I took my normal Friday drive and the usually happened - I lost cell phone coverage. It is a given that somewhere during my trip to middle of nowhere North Carolina I will lose cell phone coverage. How long this coverage stays out is greatly determined by the network on that particular day. Today, while driving outside of Chapel Hill to Siler City I was without coverage for, at least, 25 miles. If a computer were driving a vehicle and it lost 3G or 4G coverage what would happen? Would it completely stop and just sit there? Would the driver then take over? Would the car shut off? It is great that people in Mountain View, San Francisco and Petaluma have access to some of the strongest wifi and cell phone networks in the world but this is a very small part of the United States. In fact, it is miniscule when compared to all the country roads in states like Montana, Texas and Nebraska.

Computer Driven Cars Take a Complete NetworkGoogle self driving car

There is no argument to be made that the thought of computer driven cars is alluring. If Google Maps is installed in the car and a computer knows when lights turn read and where problem areas occur things could be made much easier. Unfortunately, these types of options are only available in the most advanced areas of the country. Even in technology driven areas like Raleigh-Durham, NC there are still plenty of dead spots. Some people will make the argument that it will be nothing different than a GPS device in a vehicle. While this will likely be the backbone of the system there will still need to be access to wifi to track all of the functions of Google Maps. You cannot see traffic or redlights on a non connected GPS system. Are these computer driven cars just going to blast through an intersection if the wifi goes out? Are they going to take back roads to avoid traffic and then get totally lost because the Internet service goes out? These are all questions that must be answered before any car goes into major production.

I have the luxury of traveling into some of the smallest towns in the world without even traveling for an hour. These towns have a WalMart, a barber shop and a few red lights. By few, I mean one or two at the most. There is never any cell phone coverage. There are no wifi hot spots and there sure aren't any individuals that are going to work for Apple, Google or Facebook in the near future. Individuals in these small towns are very happy to be about a decade behind the times. They live a much different life and they have no desire to advance with technology. When I sit down to eat at some of the local restaurants I often notice that flip phones are still popular in these areas. Who still has a flip phone? Well, they do. If you handed them a brand new iPhone or Android they would be completely lost.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this style of life but it is not conducive to computer driven cars. Even when I have a GPS system to navigate these areas there are still plenty of inaccuracies. Some of the roads that I drive on are not even listed on Google Maps. This has become all too common as the roads don't even have names or signs. This may be hard to believe for some people that live in big cities like Boston, New York or Los Angeles. I can promise you there are plenty of areas in the southeast in which roads are not on the map, they are not paved and they are not named. You take the road hoping it connects to another road but you really have no idea. I am fortunate to have grown up in this area so I know how most of the transportation system works. That said, computers would not have a clue. They would not know that you have to drive down the second dirt road, turn by the tree with the cross on it and go three miles before you hit the main road again. This is something that only the locals will know. Even as we advance with technology these roads are not going to be updated.

Google has high hopes for many things but as they advance I keep my eyes open to the fact that some of these ambitions are just far fetched. Giving Internet users wifi from hot air balloons sounds great, but people in my part of the world could care less. The get on the Internet for 30 minutes a day to check their Facebook and look at their spam email. They take out their flip phone to call their wife and that is about all the technology they are going to use. They grew up learning to drive in a Ford pickup truck on a dirt road. Most of the times these roads have no names or signs. This is what is going to make it nearly impossible for Google to mass produce any time of driverless car in the next decade or in my lifetime.

I think Ford and Chevy are pretty well set up for the next 100 years as small town Ted is going to buy that F150 every four or five years no matter what else is available on the market. Some people in Mountain View may buy the Tesla but Ted is happy with his Ford.




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