Friday, August 1, 2014

The War on Inefficient, Low-Value Added, Boring and Enervating Drivingby Thomas Neumann

Riposte to “The War on Driving” by Ilia Gorelov
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I need to preface this by stating that although I’m a telecommuter, I like driving; I like the open road and I like cars. I really do. My top three all-time drives include a multi-day pleasure cruise through the American Southwest in a convertible – open skies AND open roads; a night drive from Amsterdam to Northern Bavaria, where I arrived one hour earlier than the nav system predicted; and, lastly, a drive through the Alps in a supercharged coupe, when I set my personal land speed record of 155 miles an hour.


I should also mention that I’m German, and I know how good not having a speed limit feels. Trust me.


Here is what I don’t like: city driving, sitting in a traffic jam, commuting. Unfortunately, this is the reality for almost all people, almost all of the time.


I envy my colleague, Ilia Gorelov, because he can find enjoyment while traversing 18 miles in 30-45 minutes for his daily commute. Honestly, at that speed, about 30 miles per hour (and that’s on a good day), I could not enjoy driving a car. Ilia wrote that he likes the feeling of control he has when driving, thinking about the day and listening to the radio on his way to or from work in the privacy of his car. I just get annoyed with all the horrible drivers – myself, naturally, excluded. Driving is Ilia’s way to unplug and unwind, and maybe this is a good start for making the case for more autonomous vehicles:
  • The Distracted Driver – A Danger to Himself and Others: OK, I know I’m exaggerating here, but strictly and maybe a bit unfairly speaking, Ilia is a distracted driver, albeit a very, very mild case, compared to all those other multi-taskers behind the wheel. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, fatal crashes due to distracted driving (caused by such things as the use of cell phones behind the wheel, texting, and impossible-to-use infotainment systems) have increased from 10% of fatal crashes in 2005 to 16% in 2009, while the overall fatality rate has decreased from 1.5 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled to 1.1 over the same period. The bottom line: vehicles have become safer, thanks to significant industry efforts, while drivers have become more dangerous. Let people do the talking, and vehicles the driving. Autonomous vehicles = no driver = no driver distraction.
  • The Open Road – A Costly Illusion: The statistics are widely known: per year, the average American loses 38 hours due to delays while commuting and wastes 19 gallons of fuel for a total “congestion cost” of $818 per year. On the national level, this adds up to $121 billion (Texas A&M
    Transportation Institute, Urban Mobility Report 2012). Sitting in your car in a traffic jam may make for good think time, but otherwise, unless you come up with a cure for cancer while sitting in a traffic jam, (national cost of $216.6 billion), it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Autonomous, networked, intelligent vehicles have the potential to reduce congestion and increase the time you can spend with your family. I’m amazed at the car commercials shot on mountainous, winding roads with no other vehicle in sight. When I crossed the Alps, there were lots of other vehicles around, their drivers presumably enjoying the mountain solitude with me.
  • The Feeling of Control – What Control???: Granted, the transition from safety-related “driving aids” to “losing control” to the autonomous car is gradual, but modern cars come with a host of features that make you wonder how much control the driver really has: anti-lock brakes take over
    the braking in an emergency; power steering makes turning the wheel a breeze when parking (unless you have a parking aid system already); cruise control regulates the speed and automatically disengages when other cars get too close; AC maintains a constant temperature; suspension settings adjust with speed; advanced gearboxes know which gear you are going to select next; crash avoidance systems stop your car if … well, if you are too distracted, tired, inattentive or otherwise preoccupied. We could go on, but the reality is that these days the most significant unaided driver input is starting the car and turning it off, and that we are approaching the point when technology is ready to take the driver’s place in a significant way.
So, I don’t agree with Ilia Gorelov that a “War on Driving” is going on. There is a “War on Inefficient, Low-Value Added, Boring and Enervating Driving” going on – and rightfully so.


I do agree with Ilia that the emergence of more autonomous vehicles will change the relationship between the driver – better yet, the passenger – and the vehicle. The more autonomous a vehicle becomes, the less important, by definition, the “driving experience” will become. Simultaneously, other vehicle attributes will become more important. In the future, maybe product differentiation won’t be based on “top speed” and “horsepower”, but, instead, on “average travel speed” and “computing power”. Creature comforts that you can truly enjoy because you don’t have to focus on driving may also become more important.


But this is a topic to explore in more depth in a future blog!

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