I have this theory that scientists, while enjoying science-fiction, get so inspired by the ideas at the beginning of the story that they stop, roll up the sleeves of their lab coats, and jump right into inventing.
They really, really should get to the end of the story.
The inventions never turn out well.
This idea appeared to me anew with the announcement that car manufacturer Volvo, along with the EU’s Safe Road Trains for the Environment, is working on a “platoon” driving system, where the platoons will form “road trains.” From what I understand, the concept involves a lead driver–at this stage, Volvo is proposing professional drivers–with “platoon-enabled” drivers falling in behind. They would then relinquish the control of their vehicles, on a highway, to the lead driver, and then they could watch movies or text or do the Sunday crossword or read a book or paint their toenails or all the other things we’ve seen drivers doing while they should have been paying attention to the road.
It’s a free pass to not pay attention.
Sounds great, right?
Before you get onto your hands and knees to peer under your car for the “platoon on” button, bear with me here in the technological slow lane for a second.
My first question is, what if there is a need to change lanes? Think of a tractor-trailer on the highway. The whole thing might be two car lengths. A double trailer? Four. The nifty video fro Automotive TV showed at least 6 cars behind the truck lead vehicle. A train of cars, possible hundreds of feet long, would have to maneuver over, either around other platoons, or old-fashioned traffic where drivers actually control their cars.
The other thing that strikes me about this system is something that is touted as an advantage. The cars are close together, which they say reduces wind resistance and increases fuel efficiency, but what happens when someone (inevitably) plows into the back of one of these things? The car would have to convert back to user control, each car will rear end the next, and there is nothing that is going to stop that car right behind the lead from slamming into it, or worse, under it.
What if the lead driver falls asleep? Or is intoxicated? Or takes something to make him/her stay awake? What if that driver decides to send a text while driving, or to read his/her e-mail? These are problems already seen with long-distance professional drivers, what would make this group of drivers any different? The harm they could cause, however, would be all the greater, as that one person is controlling every one of the vehicles behind.
I heart technology. I do. There are moments where I have to stop to admire how wonderful various bits of technology can be, how convenient it is to have them.
But as far as I’m concerned, this seems a long way to go and a lot of trouble to go to be allowed to text while driving, and it may turn out to be just as dangerous, or more so.