Recently a couple of my friends came to England to do a grand tour of the island. We arranged to meet half-way through their three week journey. The plan was simple. I would take the train from London to Norwich where they’d pick me up and we’d drive 181 miles north to York for the weekend. By we I mean Alan was going to drive while Susan and I were going for a ride. A perfect opportunity to catch up on three years worth of gossip.
After a very enthusiastic greeting at the train station, we made our way to the parking structure where they’d left the car. Now I am always conscious of having visitors from the States around and tend to walk on the outside so I can yank back those who look the “wrong” way when attempting to cross roads. After our 10 minute walk I was overjoyed at not having to rescue anyone … after all they’d been traveling around England for a few days by then and used to looking the other way. I nested among the luggage in the back and started catching up with my friends.
Then the real fun started.
We stopped at a red light where the SATNAV instructed us to make a left-hand turn. Alan proceeded to make his left turn accompanied by a rather loud and surprisingly shrill Noooooooo from yours truly. In case you haven’t driven in England, it is illegal to make a left-hand turn on red (in the States you are allowed to make a right turn on red only when it’s safe to do so and if there are no signs forbidding you). Thankfully there was no one around except for one woman who as she drove by gave Alan the dirtiest look ever (and it was richly deserved). Apparently they’d been doing that for days. Yikes… I wonder how many traffic cameras have tagged them in the process.
Strictly as a measure of self-preservation, I moved to the center seat, barricaded myself on both sides by bags and became a back-seat road rules interpreter for Alan. This sign means the other car has priority over us while using this stretch of the road so you need to wait HERE. Unless otherwise posted, if there are streetlamps around in a city/town/village, the speed limit is 30 so we really should slow down a bit… You get the picture. Let’s just say my blood-pressure dropped back to double digits only after we reached York and left the car in the parking lot for the remainder of the weekend.
Fast forward to this week. There seems to be a veritable cornucopia of articles about self-driving vehicles in the news. For example, I just read an article about how driver-less vehicles are gaining popularity even off-road! The article had a great snippet about how the State of Michigan requires that while testing these vehicles on public roads a human needs to be in the driver’s seat at all times in case something goes wrong.
Now, our company provides a wide range of technology that helps engineers make amazing progress towards making driver-less cars a reality. I think I recently read that electronics account for 40% of traditional car production costs (I also seem to remember that percentage increases to 65-70% for electric cars). That’s a lot of electronic components. So from thermal characterization to thermal simulation we’ve got the right enabling technology to help engineers design these next gen electronics.
It’s all fantastic.
But when I hear about driver-less vehicles I get a bit sad. I’m not against progress but I’m a motorhead and I love driving. I smile from ear to ear as I drive on some of these winding English country roads with the wind in my hair. Pure bliss! So I am not overjoyed at the thought of giving up control of my car to… well… my car (and you know how much I adore my Mini). It’s like the Beach Boys song… fun, fun, fun, til “daddy” took the T-Bird away… just replace the word daddy with a car manufacturer of your choice and you see what I mean. No more going for a drive for the fun of it… instead you go for a ride (that is until someone learns how to hack the system). Intellectually I understand the benefits but the emotional side of my brain is having a really hard time with this. That is until this morning when thinking back at my adventure from a couple of weekends ago, I realized that in cases where you’ve got a driver who’s used to driving on a different side of the road, then maybe it’s not such a bad idea after all. I think car rental companies would welcome this market niche for sure
Until next time,
PS. If you ever make it to this side of the pond, please do venture outside of London. Bath, Cambridge, Devon, the Peak District, and York (among many others) are just as wonderful. Besides I promise the natives are friendlier than their London counterparts and even speak the same language – well almost ;-P