Damn humans

Updated Aug 3, 2018

By John Blodgett, MacKay & Company

I have discussed new technologies on vehicles in a few of these columns. What I have learned from reading and attending conferences on all these new technologies and products is one of the biggest problems is us.

With all the new products, services and technologies, there are typically unintended consequences. I recently read that people are drinking more when they go out because they know they don’t have to drive home — no more designated driver needed — they can just take Uber or Lyft home. What a party it’s going to be when we all have automated vehicles (AV).

Apparently, AVs are better drivers than humans, and that is a problem.

AVs obey speed limits, stop where they are supposed to, use turn signals all the time (even when no one is looking) and don’t flip us off. This apparently drives us humans mad and causes more accidents because, well, we don’t always follow the rules of the road, especially when no one is looking.

Stability control in vehicles was put in place to make vehicles safer when going through turns. Studies have now shown that drivers with vehicles with stability control are more likely to go over the speed limit through corners than those that don’t. (I’ll see your stability control and raise you 15 mph.)

Backup cameras are common now, but apparently many of us are relying completely on cameras without physically looking to either side of the car for other obstacles like we used to, so things and people are getting hit. Advancements in technologies to sense and identify other obstacles will help, but in the meantime we need to use our peripheral vision.

What human came up with the idea to call Tesla’s driver-assist function Auto Pilot? As you would expect, some of us decided that means the car can handle all the driving activities, not just some of them, with some not-too-positive outcomes.

It is not all the humans’ fault; one thing learned is that AVs need to become more human.

AVs don’t see roads as well as us, apparently. Weather and other conditions can impede an AV vehicle from seeing the road and, more specifically, the striping on the road. This is being addressed with better paints and wider strips. Apparently, my idea of using cheaters (glasses) on the AVs was ignored.

AVs are fairly impersonal compared with us (some of us). In the future, AV cars will be able to recognize and acknowledge you, not in as “Hey, there’s Bob” (although that is probably coming), but more in the area of letting you know it acknowledges your presence. This would apply when you are on a bike or walking across the street.

Now you can look at the driver of a car and complete some nonverbal communications to ensure the driver sees you and will act accordingly. AV cars don’t currently do that, but if you are crossing a street in a crosswalk (or even more importantly, if not in a crosswalk) it would help to know the AV has recognized you and will stop or slow down. They are working on how the AV vehicle will signal that to pedestrians; I am suggesting a large “thumbs up” light.

Long term, it will be a series of lessons on what works and what doesn’t work, with some occasional heartburn, towards the greater good of reducing the nearly 40,000 deaths caused by vehicle accidents every year in the U.S.

John Blodgett has worked for MacKay & Company for more than 20 years and is currently vice president of sales and marketing, responsible for client contact for single- and multi-client projects. He can be reached at john.blodgett@mackayco.com.

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