Every now and again I like to post a video which shows how fast new technologies are coming down the pipe. The pace of technology innovation is accelerating all the time but most people don’t fully grasp the implications. By showcasing technologies like self driving cars and robotics I hope to make those implications more real for people.
Audi released this video at CES this year. It is pretty cool and shows clearly that Audi believes its customers want cars that are able to drive themselves for at least part of the time, that they will be controlled by smartphones, and that they plan on being able to satisfy this desire before too long. That said it is a bit more marketing oriented than I would have liked. A 30s tech demo showing somebody driving up to a car parking space, pressing a button and then sitting with their hands in their lap whilst the car parked itself would have been better. The car does park itself, but the way the video is shot leaves open the realistic possibility that the demo is canned. The video is 4.34 mins, with the key action points at 30s, 1.30mins, and 2.45mins.
This video also made me think about a bunch of issues that will have to be figured out before there are too many vehicles like these on the roads. Over the last one hundred years or so we have developed a complex system comprising a set of norms regarding where cars can and can’t be left, how fast they drive in different circumstances and how the norms should be policed and enforced. These cars are being programmed to follow the letter of the law, but they will also need to operate effectively in the grey areas. Watching this video raises the spectre of autonomous cars frustrating us by driving too slowly out of car parks and then blocking access at the front of hotels. With today’s cars, if a driver tries to leave her vehicle in a legal but awkward spot the hotel doorman asks her to park somewhere else and, unless there is an emergency or other good reason not to, she complies. Autonomous cars will need to be able to take similar decisions or they will drive us all mad.
Mercedes, Volvo, BMW, Ford, Citroen, Honda and GM are all also working on systems that make their cars at least partly autonomous, mostly for safety reasons – more detail here.