Thursday, February 26, 2015

How about smart cars?

At the 101st Illinois Traffic and Highway Engineering (THE) Conference, the buzz was all about automated vehicles, connected vehicles, smart cars, V2I and other such buzzwords that send the whole world of Traffic Engineering as well as Computer Engineering into a tizzy. Are they that close - 2020 is a year a lot of people are talking about. From car manufacturers to Google, it seems to have become a big craze.

But I'm a skeptic. For one, as a professor rightly pointed out, such buzzwords have been in existence for decades and it always seems that the so-called revolution is around the corner - except that the said corner never comes. Now, you can call that a dismissive and pessimistic opinion, but it's not wrong to go by precedent over speculation. But the real cause of concern for me is the human aspect (or lack of it, rather). I just don't think people are going to want to put a computer in-charge of their lives - literally. An automatic vehicle without any manual control whatsoever can be quite a risk to life and I don't think people are going to want to take that.

Moreover, I'm also skeptical about things when computer scientists are so excited about it: it often oversimplifies things and does not consider crucial, human aspects that other engineers do. There are a variety of concerns that are only being given lip service while all the focus has been on creating a smart car that can work in a very limited set of conditions. And yet, without an 80% penetration rate at the minimum, the technology really does not work.

Which is why I love these conferences - people can talk about what they think or hope will be the future while living very much in the present! 

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