Driving With No Brains

by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, August 09, 2011 No Comment(s)

Our family has a long history of anticipating seismic changes in culture and lifestyle, and investing to capitalize on trends. For instance, a long-gone relative studied European politics and when he saw Hitler rise to power in Germany, he predicted that a major war was coming. Another relative deepened the research by realizing that air power would prove decisive in any future war. Thus the family invested heavily in Messerschmitt.

Years later, when the fax machine appeared, a distant cousin decided to figure out a way to fax people. The idea was if documents could be fed into a machine and sent all over the world, why not do the same with people? It would be so much faster and efficient than existing modes of transportation. Consequently we sold all our airline stock and backed his machine. Years of experimentation have not yet borne fruit, but the concept just needs tweaking. The main problem is that when you feed people into the People Fax they flatten out OK, although a little gooey, but it is difficult to puff them up again on the other end.

The project is stalled, but not dead. Often an inspiring idea does not fulfill its projected destiny, but spawns an even more productive idea. Thus with plastic grocery bags, which are losing favor because of environmental concerns, but may have found a niche in making parachutes for toy soldiers.

Another such opportunity looms on the horizon. News reports recently proclaimed that the driverless car is not far down the road. Experts say the technology exists, based on all this GPS stuff that is already helping navigate everything from mega yachts to skateboards. You would just get in your car, turn the ignition, and sit back. The car would drive itself, stopping automatically as other drivers tried to bust red lights, avoiding getting too close to other vehicles, finding a parking spot closest to your chosen terminal at airports, etc.

It is predicted that this technology would reduce accidents by 80 percent, which would be a wonderful thing, and the key to making money on this advancement is figuring out what other businesses would tend to profit or be eliminated when this concept becomes reality. Red light cameras, for instance, hardly in their infancy, might disappear the way buggy whips did when they figured out a way to put steam engines in buggies. Oddly enough, the whip business was not entirely killed. An entrepreneur in New Jersey, who was rumored to be the great uncle and a great aunt, had a lifetime supply of buggy whips. To save his company, he invented harness racing.

Lovely at it seems, driverless cars might create problems, and those problems might lead to creative solutions. Lawyers for drunk drivers are already opposing the idea as unconstitutional, because people could be in driverless cars, tight as a tick, but it would make no difference if they were impaired. Besides, if they let the car drive itself there would be no reason for a cop to pull them over.

But therein may lie lucrative opportunity. It is a given that driverless cars would be safe, obeying the speed limit and not doing stupid things such as crossing lanes on I-95 and texting while drinking coffee. But would people stand for it? We think not. For too many people the thrill of driving like maniacs is all the fun they get in life. They would figure out a way to override the driverless technology, and go racing at 90 miles an hour up U.S. 1 as always. That predictable situation may favor the prepared. With most cars obeying the rules because they have no choice, the bad drivers would be in constant road rage, passing and screaming curses and launching foul gestures at all the driverless fools slowing them down. They would need guns to shoot such fools, and they would need laws to protect them.

This would be wonderful for the gun business, especially in Florida where the legislature favors laws that punish municipalities and their officials who enact laws controlling guns and doctors who ask crazy people if they own guns. This legislature would surely understand the need to protect maniacs who fire AK-47s at the drivers of driverless cars, especially if they feel threatened by sane people.

But we better move fast and get this driverless car on the road. There’s little likelihood of it happening soon, but you never know when sanity could return to Tallahassee.

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