Self-driving technology is not ready for our stupid, unpredictable streets
Too many bumps in the sidewalk.
A few years back I wrote an article hypothesizing that self-driving cars, while a great leap forward in technology, were not supported by infrastructure. Basically, I pointed out that the multitude of variables that exist on our current roads would be difficult (to say the least) to consider.
Tech companies operate with a certain blind ego when it comes to this technology, as Uber proved in May of last year when one of its self-driving cars mowed down a pedestrian that wasn’t where a pedestrian should be according to the car’s programming. And herein lies the problem with self-driving cars that must operate on certain assumptions about human behavior – the ultimate in unpredictability.
Which makes this a good time to bring up self-driving scooters, a piece of news I can’t believe I missed. Electric scooter accidents happen quicker than than regulators can keep up with them, yet there are companies itching to develop self-driving scooters.
According to The Atlantic, one of the companies leading this self-driving scooter charge is Tortoise, which is focusing the self-driving part of the technology on moving the scooter out of public paths when not in use, rather than making it some sort of ultra-dangerous hands-free transportation device. Its tech, along with human interaction, allows remote piloting of the scooter to return it to a parking lot for instance, rather than requiring pick-up.
In effect, this is more like a scooter drone, not a self-driving scooter
Another tele-operated scooter demo, this time from startup @TortoiseHQ
Retrofitted onto existing scooter, powered by a @Raspberry_Pi, camera and microcontroller.
— Edward Miller (@TweetEdMiller) October 1, 2019
While it can be remotely piloted, the intent here is not for the rider of the scooter to be self-driven, but for the scooter to be cleared from where the rider dumped it. Unless they kicked it over, which in that case, someone still has to come out to pick it up. Tortoise is working with cities to determine safe parking spots and to develop proper mapping so scooters with its tech are less impactful to city streets than current versions.
While for the moment the idea is to create a semi-autonomous device that returns itself to base after rider use is terminated, eventually tech companies will get greedy and want to create and put into use scooters that are completely autonomous. They imagine riders simply stepping on the scooter, putting their head down and riding to their destination, rather than piloting themselves. Just what the future needs, a bunch of scooter-riding assholes staring into their phones.
That sounds like a special kind of hell. Call me a Luddite if you like, but self-driving tech is not ready for this world, especially when it comes to personal transportation. Electric scooters for rent? Sure, I can support that mildly. I mean, people are still terrible to scooters and the city streets they ride them on, unable to be responsible humans, but at least they are somewhat paying attention and can be personally blamed for accidents.
This autonomous future could be dangerous in other sectors for sure, but when it comes to self-driving scooters it’s just terribly stupid. Because humans are terribly stupid. Tech companies believe these advances applied in such a way will make life easy, but just like self-driving cars, all variables can never be fully considered without a super-AI and disaster is certain.
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