Being located in Pittsburgh, we encounter folks from outside the area with a mistaken impression— that Pittsburgh is still the smoky, twentieth century-era industrial hub. In reality, it’s a center for high tech, with robotics and computer science at its core. Pittsburgh is home for Uber’s Autonomous Vehicle project, as well as the headquarters for ARGO AI, recently acquired by Ford, both of which are moving the reality of “self-driving” cars forward. In our neighborhood, we can see five autonomous Uber models in the same day.
When our client, the Auto Alliance, a trade association representing the auto manufacturers, called to see if we could work with them on the branding and website for a newly formed coalition, we were excited. The group was called the Coalition for Future Mobility, and would communicate to the public and Congress around the issue and regulation of self-driving vehicles.
Coincidentally, earlier in the day, we met with another client whose focus is installing sensors and electronics in street lamp posts all over the country. This process would become part of the infrastructure our self-driving cars would need to communicate speed limits, stop lights, and a lot more. This was pretty dramatic—in the same day we were working on two projects relating to the self-driving cars of the future.
This was going to be Jetsons stuff, and we were going to be part of it.
What would these future cars allow us to do? Would we be busy texting, watching snapchats and answering emails while our autonomous vehicles did the tedious and anxious work of negotiating merge lanes and making left turns? This is going to be amazing.
As we began work on the Coalition website I saw the list of affiliated members. Members included the Auto Alliance, representing U.S. Manufacturers, as well as Global Automakers, representing, well, what you would expect. Another member was ATI21 or the Alliance for Transportation Innovation… makes sense.
And then I noticed a few of the other members. The National Cued Speech Association who supports effective communication, language development and literacy in families with deaf and hard of hearing people. Another member was the Federation for the Blind, as well as Segs for Vets, a group that provides Segways as a form of mobility for injured veterans. I then realized how myopic my vision of this “convenient future” was.
Self driving vehicles are less about the “conveniences” of my Jetsons dream, and more about the giving mobility to people whom had never had it before. The Coalition wasn’t just about future mobility. To many people, self driving cars will help them become mobile for the first time. Aside from the people who had never driven, self driving cars could also help older people become mobile again, whose reaction time and other faculties have been degraded to the point where it is no longer be safe for them to drive.
Automation can help reduce the number of crashes on our roads. Government data has identified driver behavior or error as a factor in 94 percent of crashes. So aside from addressing the needs of those who can’t drive. Those who can drive will be much safer.
Self-driving cars have little to do with the luxury of convenience. Will autonomous vehicles make my life better? Probably, but my life is pretty good as it is. But they will definitely make some lives significantly better, and that’s the real story. We all tend to look at the world with more emphasis on our own perspective than we should, and I am certainly guilty of that, but this helped me realize just how much more empathetic we can and should be.