Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The A to Z of Fiction to Reality: Driverless Cars

Cars able to drive themselves have been so pervasive in fiction that I'm not even going to try to figure out where the idea originated. It's like as soon as there was the idea of a car, there was also the idea of it driving itself. So, instead of exploring the origin of the idea, we're going to talk about some of my favorite examples.

First up is the movie Minority Report. Everything about transportation in this movie is interesting. The way the roads are built, everything. The cars, of course, are autonomous. You get in, set your destination, and do whatever you want to do while you get there. That's the kind of travel I want. Just think about all that extra time to read!

Probably the most famous car that could drive itself was KITT from the 1982 TV show Knight Rider. Of course, during the show, most of the driving was done by Michael Knight (played by David Hasselhoff), but KITT could drive itself if it needed to. And talk. And, even, because it had a laser, pop popcorn (no, this was never shown in the TV show, but I'm sure it was possible). I'm pretty sure there wasn't kid growing up in the 80s that didn't want a car like KITT. I mean, on top of everything else, it was a Trans Am, and it just looked cool.

But the car of my childhood, the bast car of all, was Speed Buggy. Speed Buggy was awesome. Not only could Speed Buggy drive itself, and talk, and had eyes, but it could do things like super inflate its tires so that it could drive on water. All in all, Speed Buggy was way cooler than Herbie. Herbie couldn't even talk. Well, okay, Herbie was brave (Speed Buggy was a scaredy cat), but he was also an annoying romantic and called The Love Bug. What boy wants to drive around in a car called The Love Bug? Speed Buggy wins.

Well, looking at my list and thinking back over some other cars that could drive themselves, it seems that a lot of these also had their own form of AI, which we already covered. Of course, the ability to have a car that can drive itself would imply, I suppose, some sort of AI to guide it. Probably, we'd rather driverless cars a la Minority Report than any of the other.

But are these real? Right now? Just last year, Nevada was the first state to pass a law making driverless cars road legal. Google, yes that Google, has been road testing them for years and has hundreds of thousands of miles of driving time. With no accidents. Okay, well, one accident, but the car was actually being driven by a human at the time and was also rear-ended, so no fault of the car.

Are you ready for your Google car? I want to say I am, but I had this thought the other day... see, when I think of a car that can drive itself, I think of being able to read or sleep while the car does the work. However, I'm sure that that's not what most people would be doing. No, most people will be watching movies or being online or whatever. And, then, I realized! See, it's always seemed sort of weird that Google would be working on car that drives itself, but it all makes sense now! What did I say most people will be doing while the car drives around? Watching stuff. All powered by Google. Think of all the extra advertising time Google will get out of this. Not to mention all the new advertising powered GPS and stuff...
Makes you think, doesn't it?


  1. Andrew, we're on the same page, because that would make me happier than a bird with a French fry, being able to read and not worry about driving. As it stands, especially when I have a REALLY good book, I keep said book on the passenger-side seat and gratefully pick it up whenever I hit a red light. YAY for red lights! Oh, and trains are the best. Forget going around (unless I'm late for something), I'm snatching this opportunity to read! ;)

  2. Only if all of the other cars on the road are also driverless! I'd still want a way to control it, in case something happens. Guess that's why I hate to fly - I'm not in control.

  3. Lots of awesome examples. Auto-pilot in cars ranks just under teleportation in my list of transportation upgrades we need.

  4. My ex-wife's car was practically driverless every time she hit the road in it. It'd be great of there was tech in it that prevented all her accidents.

    I heard a TedX talk last week where a researcher said his most recent iterations of driverless cars have been outperforming human drivers in tests. We might finally be getting close.

  5. I love the idea of cars that can drive themselves. I hate driving in heavy traffic. It's icky and something I have to do every day because I live in a city.

  6. I so would love a driverless car. It's such a waste of time to spend energy focusing on driving. Thankfully, I listen to a ton of audiobooks. That helps.

  7. I was watching the first flying car prototype the other night. Maybe Fifth Element is coming!


  8. Wow, looks like you and I have a lot of similar interests. LOVE Minority Report - movie and short story. I wrote about another of Philip K. Dick's works today. Also loved your cyborg post.

    Awesome blog and new follower.

  9. I loved KITT! I saw that picture and the whoosh whoosh sound of his light popped into my head.

    The other thing that freaks me out about AI cars is the room for error. I mean, obviously humans make errors all the time when driving, but articles like this show where the technology can go wrong. Although that includes a VERY healthy dose of human error (stupidity?) too.

  10. KITT had to be the best. I would love a Google car, but actually I'm waiting for teleporting for adults (kids can already do it, I think).

  11. I want this so bad. I've had *cough* a LOT of driving lessons but it's never going to happen for me. (Something to do with needing co-ordination and spatial awareness).

  12. Alyssia: French fries make birds happy? I never knew...
    I don't try to read at red lights (even though I do keep a book in the car with me most of the time). I tried that when I was (much) younger, but it just lead to people honking at me.

    Alex: Right now, the cars are such that you can take control of them at any time like with cruise control. One of the interesting things is the drop in traffic they think we'll have when cars can drive themselves.

    Matthew: Well, they're working on teleportation, too, but that's probably going to be quite a bit longer to achieve.

    Rusty: Wow... I don't even want to think about that. About your ex and accidents, that is.

    I think the fact that Nevada has already made them legal says that they're right around the corner.

    Michael: See, cars driving themselves will help with the traffic issues, too, because they are more efficient with their driving.

    Laura: I can't listen to audio books. It kind of sucks. The sound just become a drone, and my mind wanders. Thanks for coming by!

    Denise: They are pretty cool. That's my post for today, by the way.

    S. L.: I haven't checked the actual numbers, but Dick has to be one of the most adapted authors.

    Sari: Yeah, that whole GPS thing is crazy. I see those kinds of articles all the time, but those really are human errors. Trusting the computer too literally, usually.

    Donna: I think you're right about kids. It's pretty constant that there will be one behind me and then that same one in front of me without ever passing me.

    Sarah P: Well, I would put money on them being commercially availbe within the next five years. Not sure how affordable they'll start out, though.