Senior readers will remember this: In the 1950s when there was so much optimism in the air, folks were predicting things like flying cars. A few hearty souls even tried to bring a commercially viable flying car to market, all resulted in failure. Looking back, I'm glad they didn't catch on because it would have caused a regulatory nightmare, and the skies would rain death upon the populace. Okay, maybe the raining death part was over the top, but you know what I mean. It's bad enough that the safety record of small and experimental aircraft is rife with pilot error caused accidents. Now if we fast forward to 2016 the idea of everyone flying to work in their cars is pretty much a fantasy, but self-driving cars are not. Huh?
Global positioning satellites have changed everything, and that is part of what will guide self-driving automobiles in the future. Advances in software, electronic devices, laser technology, sensors, etc., have come together to allow the self-driving concept to actually work. The complexity seems to be getting handled rather well. Google, Uber, Ford, and Microsoft are all jumping on this bandwagon with both feet, committing millions on millions of dollars on research and development. While I can see this as a potentially viable form of transportation in the future, I am not 100 percent sold. We're already hearing about vehicles in Google's self-driving fleet having accidents, and that is understandable because the technology is still being developed; it is simply in testing mode right now.
I can imagine a few scenarios where I would be tempted to take a ride in a self-driving vehicle. Slow speed rides through strange cities seems appropriate. Foreign cities? Maybe not right off, but the self-guided vehicle may circumvent language misunderstandings. I recall my daughter's time in France where a roommate's sister was planning a visit. She docked in Marseilles, asked for a ticket to Rennes, but instead of pronouncing it "Wren" she said Rennes. The confused ticket agent issued a ticket for Venice. The young lady had a lot of explaining to do when the train ended up in Italy. Would a self-guided car have done better? Quite possibly.
Some of the proposals for self-guided city cars include electric vehicles. What could possibly go wrong there? Well, just three days ago while on a business trip to New York I saw quite a few all electric Tesla's on the road. The rest areas in Connecticut had a raft of Tesla charging stations. The very next day while driving down I-91 I spotted an abandoned Tesla with enough on-board power to run the four way flashers, but obviously not enough to propel the en tire car. The nearest charging station in that scenario was 25 miles away. Good luck! AAA is probably mandatory for Tesla's.
All of this futuristic vehicular discussion is simply leading up to one of the things that I've been saying for 40 years; America needs to make a huge investment in high speed rail systems. They work, they are efficient, pollute less, and don't get lost. If we had a system like France, Japan, or even China, maybe long and short distance travel would be effortless when rail and self-driving cars are combined. At this time it is hard to say how we will get there.