Sunday, January 24, 2016

The future is here, maybe



     The future is always over the hill. That's what makes it the future. Tomorrow never comes. Change happens so slowly that its forward creep isn't detectable to the casual observer. Life rolls along pretty much the same way it always has.
      But occasionally, society takes a lurch, so abruptly that you can almost feel it move. You pause and think "Something just happened."
      I had such a moment Saturday.
      There was a bit of foreshadowing, an initial shock: the stark black two page advertisement in the New York Times by Mercedes Benz announcing that its 2017 sedan will be the first car licensed for self-driving.  I knew it was coming, fast, knew Google was testing it's little bean cars. But next year Mercedes will be selling them—not to me, God knows, but to somebody. The cars will drive themselves—just in Nevada, for now—I'd make some joke about taking a gamble, but self-driving cars make too much sense to not become the norm. Tens of thousands of deaths each year are caused by humans driving their cars erratically. 
    We all like to be captains of our destiny on the open road, "Born to Be Wild" and all, but to save 90 percent on our car insurance most of us will happily let a bundle of sensors and micro-chips drive while we sit back and stare at our phones and send text messages to our friends. (Heck, half the drivers seem to be doing that already, half the time. It's only sensible that the cars should pay attention to driving—somebody ought to.
   If that weren't enough to chew on, just this Saturday, running into Northbrook Court to
stop at the eyeglass store, I saw this: a pair of free Volta charging stations, with two Tesla Model S sedans cheek-by-jowl at the trough, slurping up electricity.
     I'm familiar with the Tesla — I've driven one. Quite a lot of giddy-up for a car running on batteries. Maybe not the vehicle I'd purchase if I had $85,000 burning a hole in my wallet. But a wide, low slung car with those way-cool door stainless steel handles that retract flush with the doors. I notice them everywhere. I used to say, "There's a Tesla," but now I don't bother. There are too many of them.
     The stations are newly installed by Volta, a San Francisco start-up that, according to a Fortune article in June, had installed 100 stations at shopping centers around the country and hoped, by now, to install 300 more.  They give the electricity away free and pay for themselves with advertising on their kiosks. There's another pair at Oakbrook Terrace.
      Someday, I imagine, most parking spaces, or at least many more, will have these, a little inducement to do your shopping at a bricks and mortar store. Amazon can do a lot of things, but it can't charge your car while you shop, at least not yet.
    We came out of Northbrook Court, oh, a half hour later, and one of the Teslas was gone, and there was an unusual silver sports car, a Fisker Karma.  I had never seen one before: Fisker was a short-lived Finnish hybrid, sort of the Bricklin of the second decade of the 21st century. They only made a few thousand of them before the company went belly up. A reminder that the future isn't always what it seems at the moment, and guesses about what's is to come are just that, guesses, reflecting more on the anxieties of any given moment than offering an actual roadmap of what's ahead.
     So yes, maybe self-driving cars and mall charging stations. Or maybe not.  I also paid $1.75 a gallon to fill up the day before, as oil companies pump out petrol and gas prices tumble. Which hurts the market for electric cars. So instead of being the future, electric cars could be an aberration, a blip, someday seen as amusing relics of once upon a time, back when we were still trying to stop climate change, before Donald Trump got elected and we all gave up, all decided 'Ah, what the hell, have a good time" while doom crept up on us.  I suppose they can make those Hummers self-driving too.  





8 comments:

  1. Can self-living lives be far behind?

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  2. I wholeheartedly welcome the concept of self-driving cars. But you have to feel sorry for those drivers always in a hurry, who will be cooped up in their vehicle, grinding their teeth, muttering curses and beating their heads against the unresponsive dashboard, because they can't make the damn thing go faster.



    john

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    Replies
    1. I thought you could take over the self driving car

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    2. I was wondering that also, sanford. I myself enjoy driving for the most part, and would probably get antsy just sitting in a self-driven vehicle, at least until I got used to the experience.

      SandyK

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    3. Perhaps some of the women who marched in Chicago should also march on Springfield against Rauner.

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  3. electric cars do nothing to combat
    "global warming" they use electricity made from burning coal or natural gas

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  4. I would feel nervous sitting in a car while it drives itself.

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  5. When you have time, we'd like to see more of those emails and replies.

    ReplyDelete