Self-Driving Automobiles Hit the Road

After a weeklong hiatus, since the last issue, I have struggled to remold my column into a higher form, a work of art to rival the masterpieces of the columnist greats of the past. Therefore, today I make my first attempt to join my eminent columnist predecessors with a work of the most esteemed, most respected, most literary form of all the column genres: the advice column.

Typically, this sort of column is written in response to other people. However, I am working on a tight deadline and pretty much forgot to ask people to ask me for advice, so I’m going to be writing to a very impressionable version of myself — from Canada, without a car. My sidewalk-bound Canadian self wants to buy a car in three years after he actually gets a job, and is curious as to what nifty features he ought to look out for: electric cars, driverless cars, flying cars? To him, I dutifully reply:

Dear Carless in Canada,

For starters — nah, man, you should not buy a Tesla Model 3. Don’t burn a hole in your pocket. I know it may seem like an innovative vehicle and that Elon Musk seems like a cool dude, but just don’t do it. It is true that you can preorder a Tesla Model 3 if you want but see if I care. Tesla is on shaky ground these days, but I suppose putting a little money down to preorder a modestly priced, practical electric car would help support its work when it is not going to be making any sales for three years.

You could get a Chevy Bolt instead, which they say is just as eco-friendly as a Tesla, just as practical and going to be out by the end of this year. As far as looks go, though, the Tesla promises to be way cooler.

Yep. It’s true, people besides Google and Tesla are doing cool stuff with cars. The “establishment” car dealers in Michigan are rushing headlong into the futuristic car-tech business. Rumors circulated at the beginning of this year that Google and Ford would be working together to further develop driverless cars. People fantasized this tag team with Google as the brains and Ford as the industrial brawn, but it doesn’t seem as though anything ever came of it.

Google or no Google, Ford is already pushing forward with driverless car-tech of its own, planning to have up to 30 vehicles “training” on the roads in Michigan, California and Arizona in the coming years. Some suggest that a new car-top sensor revealed by Ford earlier this year may even give the automaker’s machines an edge over Google’s driverless cars.

Also, the 2016 release of the Honda Civic, which is only $20,000, offers a seriously comprehensive semi-automatically driving car. “Driver assist” features include cameras that alert you when nearby traffic patterns might put you at risk for a crash, as well as computers that take this warning to heart and press the brakes for you in such a situation.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Self-driving cars are never going to replace me! I can drive so much more safely than a computer!”

That’s debatable. Computers don’t fall asleep or get distracted by good-looking young men and women crossing the sidewalk or their cell phones. Although one of Google’s test cars was at fault for a light crash last month, it is notable that the human “backup” driver would have made the same lane change that led to the crash. The human operating the car could have overridden the car’s autopilot, but chose not to do so because he, along with the car, believed that it would be a safe maneuver.

And just a word on flying cars: You think traffic is bad now, huh? Why put that madness in the sky? Besides, it’ll cost way too much to put a hunk of metal up in the clouds. The fuel required to keep two tons in the air for any significant amount of time is much too massive to be practical. As we’ve seen with all these toy drones, downward-facing propellers are much more effective—and it’s going to be really hard to maintain propellers big enough to hold that much metal in the air. Flying cars are impractical.

And finally, I’ll take a stab at the burning question on the mind of my car-less Canadian self: Will I be able to park my car on Georgetown’s campus? Nope, there still isn’t enough space.

Yours truly,

Your well-meaning American self.

Patrick Soltis is a sophomore in the College. INNOVATION SMACK TALK appears every Friday.

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