Asleep at the Wheel?


Reading time ( words)

We’ve all heard the news stories about drivers taking “full” advantage of the conveniences offered by the current crop of semi-autonomous vehicles. We’ve seen the photos and the videos of drivers reading or, even worse, sleeping while their car drives itself in freeway traffic. On the one hand, it’s shocking that people would put so much trust in the system to keep them safe—some people close to me can’t even sleep in a vehicle as a passenger, let alone as the driver.

But on the other hand, I suppose we really shouldn’t be surprised.  Human ingenuity is driven by laziness, and much of the new, emerging technologies enable that kind of creativity. Legend has it that Benjamin Franklin—American publisher, inventor, and statesman—once credited his inventions on a tendency to be “industriously lazy.”

And who among us hasn’t, at some point in their life, extended the function of some purpose-built item or tool to solve a new, unanticipated problem? Surely, you’ve used a screwdriver as a chisel, for example. Or maybe you’re one of those folks who has folded a post-it note folded into a catch basin and attached it below where you drill a hole in the wall to catch all of the wall dust? Mac users, you do know how to open a crown bottle cap with your wall plug, don’t you? Give people a tool—and an unfulfilled, unrelated need—and they’ll figure out a way to fill their need with what they have.

Yes, resourcefulness is at the center of the art of being “industriously lazy.” But let’s not forget that current self-driving features are intended to serve as driver assistance, not driver replacement. Ultimately, it is the human operators who are expected and required to stay alert and on call to take over driving responsibilities whenever necessary. Still, I can hear some of you muttering, “If, when using driver assist, I have to stay as alert as if I were driving in the first place, then what is the value to that technology?” And that’s a valid point...

To read the full article, which appeared in the October 2019 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here or download the PDF here.

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