Saturday, December 19, 2015

Self-Driving Cars Need To Hurry Up

google car by Trevor is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0
I recently came down with a moderately nasty sinus infection and had to go to urgent care to get diagnosed and get some antibiotics. Before I headed to urgent care, however, I had to choose from the following sub-optimal traveling options:
  • Have my wife drive me there, which would have required our son to be in the car with us. Since I wasn't sure if I had a sinus infection or the flu yet, this wasn't ideal.
  • Hire an Uber or taxi to take me there. I doubt the driver would have appreciated the company, no matter how well I tipped.
  • Call an ambulance. This was overkill and also prohibitively expensive.
  • Drive myself there with a mid-grade (100F) fever.
I opted for the latter option - thankfully, the fever wasn't serious enough to significantly affect my ability to drive safely and I live less than half a mile away from an urgent care facility. However, while driving there, it occurred to me that there were people sharing the road with me that might have been every bit as sick as I was - or even sicker. There could have been a single mother, sick with the flu, sharing a car (and air) with her healthy kid while she tried to get treatment. There could have been someone experiencing a stroke while driving down the road. There could have been someone with a much more serious fever - say, 103F or so - starting to hallucinate while driving down the freeway, or suddenly gripped by fevered paralysis. 

What would protect everyone? Self-driving cars.

Think about it. What if you were really sick - not quite sick enough to require someone to keep your vitals steady, but sick enough where you shouldn't drive (say, if you had dysentery or something), and you could just limp your way into your self-driving car and say, "Go to nearest Urgent Care." Then you could spend the trip focused on keeping warm and hydrated and know that you'll get to your destination safely without potentially losing lucidity and threatening everyone else on the road. The car could even make a loud noise when you got there so you could take a quick nap.

Unfortunately, California's decided to take the slow road on this.

I don't entirely blame California here - Google's cars have been somewhat accident-prone, and identifying who has liability in an accident is still an open question - but still, the sooner this technology takes off, the sooner we can stop worrying about DUIs, strokes, seizures, and other health issues affecting and endangering drivers.

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