You’re driving down the freeway at 65 mph when you look over and the person next to you is reading their email and texting on their smartphone. Worse yet is the person on the other side who is driving down the freeway with the latest edition of the Wall Street Journal stretched across the steering wheel and they too, are driving at 60 or 70 mph. Scary to say the least. I have personally seen both of those in the last 30 days. Scary and really dangerous. But that is changing and will be common place over the next decade if not sooner.
I have told a number of my clients and audiences that the next generation of cars will have to drive themselves because the “next gen” folks will have to have that robotic help to survive the freeways. Many of us have already read of the Google-owned driverless cars that have racked up over 140,000 miles in Nevada and California. You might have read of the autonomous car in China that drives the 177 miles between Changsha and Wuhan. True, that is not the 405 freeway in LA, but still it is 177 miles.
We have also seen the commercials of the cars that automatically parallel park themselves and the commercials where the Distronic Plus Radar System in the Mercedes alerts the driver when they are getting too close to the car ahead or a car is in the driver’s blind spot, and may even take over when the car in front of us slows too suddenly. (If you haven’t seen one of those commercials, click on the Distronic Radar link to watch a cool video.)
And of course we are all familiar with the pilotless drones that are engaged in selective warfare and surveillance around the world and on our own borders. Not that your car will ever be a drone and heaven forbid that your 10 year old would be able to drive your car remotely from his or her bedroom while you were reading the online version of the Wall Street Journal or the Times on the way to the office, but that might not be too far outside the realm of possibility.
Tom Vanderbilt, the author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) has written an interesting article in the February issue of Wired Magazine which hit my iPad and my postal box this week. The article carries the title Let the Robot Drive: The Autonomous Car of the Future Is Here. Vanderbilt explains in graphic detail the past, the current, and the near-future state of the robotic automobile. He points out the pitfalls and the pluses of robotic cars, and also lays out some predictions for robots easing on the freeways in the near future. He concludes his article saying:
“I was briefly nervous when [the driver] first took his hands off the wheel and a synthy woman’s voice announced coolly, ‘Autodrive’. But after a few minutes, the idea of a computer-driven car seemed much less terrifying than the panorama of indecision, BlackBerry-fumbling, rule-flouting, and other vagaries of the humans around us – including the weaving driver who struggles to film us as he passes.”
One of my “Boomer” friends says that it will not happen in his lifetime, but he also predicted that the iPhone would not change the market either. The implications for the tech shift that are underway are amazing and funny. They are becoming the new reality and that new reality is closer than most of us realize. This technology is not some space fantasy or evil adversary, it is part of a large tech movement headed our way.
My question for the construction industry is when will the robots begin driving concrete trucks and semi-trailer trucks on those same freeways?