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When I was a child I really appreciated automobiles, trucks, and other ground vehicles: such machines were stylish, powerful, and interesting—the ultimate status symbols which apparently gave the users limitless personal freedom. I would fantasize about the exotic customs sports cars I would drive once I came of age and got rich.
This line of thought came to a screeching halt when I reached high school and discovered that I hate driving. Since I lack depth perception (because of a childhood eye-problem), driving is an incredibly stressful ordeal which involves lots of agonizing guesswork about where my vehicle is in relation to everything else on the road. I can do it, but it’s exhausting and I don’t like it one bit. Since I live in Brooklyn and don’t own a car (or operate one unless I’m under great duress) I am a consummate pedestrian and I’m always shocked an appalled by the deadly oblivious arrogance of some car users who seem to actively want to kill the lesser beings on the outside of their steel bubble. If someone ran around firing a shotgun in the air, a swat teem would come and dispatch them, whereas someone driving in a comparably dangerous way is regarded with blasé indifference—even if traffic deaths still account for 35,000 fatalities in America alone.
This is why I have been looking forward to robot cars—one of those promised sci-fi innovations which, like fusion power, always seem to lie 30 years in the future. With this dream always at the back of my mind, I was happy to see some robotic concept cars featured in today’s news from the consumer electronics show currently going on in Las Vegas. General Motors’ EN-V (electric networked vehicle) was first shown in the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai and the little two-wheel cars proved a popular diversion at the CES. The vehicles are capable of parking themselves, sensing each other, playing follow the leader, and driving automatically to a user when summoned via smart phone. They also automatically sense pedestrians via ultrasonic sensors–although dvice.com reports that “in the demo, one hapless GM volunteer nearly got run over, at which point the EN-V seemed to freak out and refused to move any more.”
Kudos to GM for pushing robotic cars forwards! Futurists and automobile insiders who had a chance to watch the demonstration confidently predicted the legal, technological, and logistic wrinkles would be ironed out eventually and these cars (or vehicles like them) will actually go into production…in about 30 years.