My brother hasn’t gotten a drivers license yet… and even in his mid-twenties he doesn’t feel like he should have to get one (more power to him!). So, my dad sends us this letter:

Okay - you don’t want to get a driver’s license. Here’s a possible solution from Google that will drive your car for you.

but how does it work out these solutions?

  • its turn at a 4-way stop?
  • its opportunity with heavy cross traffic?
  • reading a stop light?
  • if there are lots of these cars on the road?
  • if a ball rolls out into the road?
  • can it tell if you are drinking when it brakes?

My response follows:

The specifics of how it can tell the difference between a bouncing ball, a sprinting two-year-old, newspaper trash, tumbleweeds, or the neighbor’s irritating dog are complicated for sure. So, without directly answering your questions about how the machines to their magic, I would like to add that these vehicles have been driving autonomously on public roads for the last few years. Albeit, with a human at the wheel prepared to prevent troubles.

It will surely be unfortunate for a lot of gainfully employed truck- & taxi-drivers. But automated supply chains will - through greater efficiencies & 24/7 operation - drastically reduce the fuel and labor costs of the many services we use every day. Google already uses autonomous golfcarts @ their california campuses…

There are some other neat applications for this sort of autonomous technology:

  • Consider the case of the quadrotor helicopters or airplane drones being used to deliver medicine, food, and wireless connections to terrifically disconnected areas in emergencies or by special request. A doctor-without-borders (or a medicine man) with a tricorder-type iPhone app could call in prescriptions or vitamin deliveries.
  • A swarm of quadrotors, equipped with cameras/routers/transmitters/etc… could be deployed to create a detection & communication network over a collapsed building or destroyed neighborhoods after an earthquake/typhoon/tsunami. They could be used to detect leaking gas, fires, body heat… or deploy smaller ground-based, automated sensor-equipped drones to crawl/swim/sift through the rubble to help itentify survivors.

Geez… this is gonna be a massive change!