Autonomous Driving – A Look to the Future

In this article, I will discuss the potential and ultimate reality of Autonomous Driving, or in layman’s terms, driver-less cars.

First, to define Autonomous Driving… It is a vehicle that “drives itself”. It is able to sense its environment and make adjustments or corrections to operate and maneuver a vehicle without human intervention.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has defined 5 levels of Autonomous Driving. Level 0 (not really a level) is what most of us encounter every day; a car that must be completely controlled by its driver. Levels 1 through 5 of Autonomous Driving define various implementations of automation that transfer control of certain functions from the driver to the vehicle. Most automobiles manufactured today are at least Level 1 vehicles because they are equipped with Cruise Control, an automated function that has been available for decades. Level 1 vehicles are defined as a vehicle with 1 automated primary driving function.

Many new vehicles fall into the Level 2 category which is, you guessed it, a vehicle equipped with 2 automated driving functions. In many vehicles this would be Cruise Control and Lane Detection or Lane Centering (the ability to keep the vehicle between the lines of the driving lane). Automated braking also qualifies as a Level 2 function.

Levels 3 – 5 define even greater means of automation, with the greatest change coming between Levels 3 and 4. Level 3, known as “limited self-driving” is a mode in which the vehicle is able to perform all driving functions, but with the ability to return control back to the driver when necessary.  This mode allows the driver to remove his/her/its hands from the steering wheel and even engage in other activities, but the driver must be willing and ready to regain control of the vehicle when notified.

Level 4, is total driver-less mode. The human in the car is a passenger who might give the vehicle instructions regarding the destination, etc, but for every other function, the vehicle is in control, and remains in control throughout the entire journey.

Level 5, is not only driver-less, it is unmanned. This is a mode of Autonomous Driving in which no human is present in the vehicle. Level 5 vehicles could be used to take the place of delivery trucks, etc.

How will this impact our lives?

That’s a good question considering the estimate that ALL vehicles manufactured after 2040 will be Level 5 capable vehicles. So let’s consider how we evolve from mostly Level 1 vehicles in 2016, to all Level 5 vehicles in 2040…

Consider a trip to the grocery. You leave your home in your personal vehicle. You navigate through the local streets and roadways to the grocery store where you select the best possible parking space. You park, enter the store, make your grocery selections, check out, and repeat the entire process in reverse, all of which takes about an hour.

Fast forward to 2020. You log onto your computer and make your grocery selections on line. You choose a pick-up time and location (from the local branch of your grocery store). You navigate to the store, park in a specially marked “on line purchase” parking spot. You text a special code to the store and a clerk brings your pre-paid groceries to your car. You return home, having spent about half an hour of your time, and all without entering the store.

Fast forward to 2015. You log onto your computer and make your grocery selections on line. You choose a pick-up time and location (from the local branch of your grocery store). You navigate to the store, park in a specially marked “on line purchase” parking spot. But this time, you don’t have to text anything to the store. A camera at the parking spot recognizes your vehicle license number, alerts a robot in the store, and here comes an automated conveyor cart with your groceries. That same camera uses facial-recognition technology to cross reference your face with your vehicle. If the two don’t match, you get a text alert asking you to enter your purchase code to confirm your identity. After all, you may be driving some other car this day.

Keep in mind that during the 10 years that have passed in the above example, the grocery store has been completely remodeled. It now more closely resembles a warehouse. Automated systems rotate inventory. RFID chips track every product’s location and shelf time.  The handful of customers who still choose to enter the store make their purchases from a Kiosk. An automated conveyor delivers the groceries to the customer at the front of the store. Nobody spends an hour in the store walking the aisles to see what’s on sale, etc.

This will completely change the way products are marketed to consumers.

Fast forward to 2030. You tap the touch screen on your refrigerator. You see that the automated inventory system maintained by the refrigerator knows that you need milk, eggs, Velveeta slices, etc. etc. You add a few items to the pre-populated list and select “purchase”. The groceries are packaged in a distribution center in a warehouse district and delivered to your home in an hour. There is a driver in the delivery vehicle, but his/her/its primary responsibility is to set your packages on your porch. A proximity indicator knows that the delivery vehicle has stopped at your home and sends you a text alert that your groceries are on your front porch. The delivery vehicle continues on its journey, dropping off groceries to a half-dozen of your neighbors on the same trip.

That same evening, you have plans to see a local band playing at your favorite restaurant. Since your calendar app is linked to the local transportation system, and you have set your preferences to arrive 15 minutes before the schedule time, you get a text at 6:25 pm letting you know that your “shared ride” will arrive in front of your home at 6:45 to pick you up. (Think shared “Uber” service, fully automated). Your ride arrives at your home, the driver confirms your identity and destination, you board the 12-passenger electric transport, fully equipped with WiFi, beverage service, and a restroom. 33 minutes later you arrive at the restaurant for dinner, music, and dancing. Have as much to drink as you wish, your automated transport will make sure you arrive home safely.

Fast forward to 2040. Most roadways built in the last 10 years are restricted to Level 4 or 5 vehicles only. Traffic accidents have been reduced by 80%, and traffic accidents involving injury to the passengers or a fatality have been reduced by 96%. Most accidents now involve low-speed situations in parking lots, etc. where humans have regained control of the vehicle.

Your trip to the office now takes 20 minutes instead of 45 minutes 10 years ago. You work during the commute to your office, and so do the other 11 people on your shared transport. Congestion on the roadways is a thing of the past. Unmanned vehicles make deliveries and pickups of items weighing less than 40 pounds. A “car pool” of unmanned vehicles capable of transporting up to 6 passengers, is maintained within a 3-mile radius of your home. If you need to go somewhere, a transport is at your home within 10 minutes. If you need to deliver something or pick up something weighing less than 40 pounds, an unmanned transport makes the trip for you. A small refrigerated vault about 4′ x 4′ x 6′ tall, is integrated into your home’s structure near the driveway. Delivery vehicles are programmed to drop off standard sized containers in your vault for safe keeping until you arrive home. The RFID chips in the containers alert the vault if the items in the package need refrigeration. The packages are re-usable so that return items, trash, or recyclables can be placed into the vault from inside the home, ready to be picked up by an unmanned vehicle.

You stand in your garage looking at your 2036 model 5-passenger electric car with 3,240 miles on the odometer. The life expectancy of the car is 200,000 miles. You go back into your home and modify your will to include which one of your grandchildren gets the car when you pass.

Welcome to 2040.


Where Have All the Dollars Gone?

In the days and months leading up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, President Obama set the expectations of the American people: “If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan”. “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor”. “This bill will save the typical American family $2,500 / yr. in healthcare costs”.

Now that the provisions of the law are beginning to take affect, we have learned that healthcare premiums across the nation are going UP, not down. Many people have reported increases of 100% or more. In addition to increases in premiums, the majority of healthcare plans have increased deductible limits, which means that the out-of-pocket expenses for the typical American family have skyrocketed.

Finally, millions of Americans are being told that their employer will either discontinue to offer healthcare benefits at all, or that spousal or dependent coverage is being dropped. All of this translates into more money for fewer benefits.

Prior to the Act, the healthcare system in the United States was fully funded. Insurance companies made profits. Companies provided healthcare benefits to employees with reasonable deductibles. Now, costs have risen sharply while benefits have decreased. So, where is all the money going? How can billions more pour into the healthcare system while millions have lower coverage?

Catching Fire

Yes, I went to see the latest installment of Hunger Games. The second in the 3-part series is called “Catching Fire”. Yes, it was good and yes, it had some memorable performances by Jennifer Lawrence, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lenny Kravitz, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, and others. It didn’t have the same impact on me as did the first because I have now read the books and have a general understanding of what is coming next. It is however, a very entertaining movie and I can’t wait for the final installment. But, entertainment might not be the most important feature of Hunger Games.  Continue reading

The Second Amendment – The Right to Bear Arms

With the creation of the US Constitution in 1787 and the subsequent adoption by the 13 Colonies, a good many Colonists became concerned about specific rights that may or may not have been addressed in the Constitution. Leaders from most of the Colonies expressed a desire to have specific rights clarified through amendments to the Constitution.

These concerns lead to the creation of the first 10 Amendments, collectively known today as the “Bill of Rights”. They were written in 1789 and ratified by the States in 1791. The “Bill of Rights” is a collection of laws that restrains the Federal government and protects individuals. Continue reading

2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back

One the greatest sporting pastimes in the world is the game of golf. It is a challenging yet rewarding game. It has been played by both young and old, poor and rich, noble and common. It has been said that golf is a game that cannot be won; it can only be played. No matter how hard you try, you can always do better, but you can never “win”. The same can be said of politics. However in the game of politics, there is most certainly a loser: the people of the United States. Continue reading

How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

If you haven’t already read my blog post about the effectiveness of New Year’s resolutions, you can access it here. This post will make more sense after reading the other one.

The first step in keeping  a New Year’s resolution is to understand that it is nothing more than a Goal. With that in mind, I will refer to a New Year’s resolution as a Goal from now on. Whatever you have stated as your New Year’s resolution is now your Goal.  Continue reading

Why I hate Hate Crimes

It is an icon of the American system of justice that one is “innocent until proven guilty”. Yes, I realize that this long standing tradition doesn’t hold true with the media, but nevertheless, a judge or jury in a court of law is where one legally becomes “guilty” instead of “innocent”, if that is the verdict.

However, when it comes to the prosecution of a person for a “hate” crime, the prosecutor has already deemed the perpetrator to be guilty of hate before a trial is ever conducted. Not only does this approach to a trial throw the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” into the trash can, but it presumes the prosecutor can read the perpetrator’s mind… and it that were true, we could avoid a trial altogether.  Continue reading