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Driving in cyberspace

January 22, 2014
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

There is a crash prevention program being done by the University of Michigan. They have outfitted 3,000 vehicles with electronic gadgets that communicate with each other, car to car, and with stop lights, and school zones, in a specially selected section of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The gadgets alert the drivers of dangerous situations, like possible collisions, or traffic light changes, by vibrating the seats or flashing lights or sirens. If the third car in front of you hits the brakes, you would get an alarm in your car. If someone was about to run a red light in front of you, you would get an alarm in your car.

I can't imagine the amount of vibration and noise that that would cause in my car as I drove around our little paradise. With our grandmothers driving slowly, kids driving fast and busy soccer moms driving while phone-talking, the inside of my car would sound like a rock concert. Maybe that's what the university-types are aiming for with this program. Modern kids live in electronically noisy worlds anyway, so they would adapt easily to the increase in electronic stimulation while driving. We peace-and-quiet lovers may soon be ticketed for DWU; Driving While Un-stimulated.

I wonder if our youth are being over-stimulated. I recently offered to take some young boys on a boat ride through a maze of canals in an island in the Florida Keys. I asked their father if they would like that, and I'd even let them drive the boat. Their dad said they might like it if there was a machine gun on the bow and they could go at 60 miles per hour; otherwise, not so much. They went back to their video games, and I went for the boat ride.

Maybe the extra stimulation provided by the Michigan experiment would keep their attention. Nature doesn't seem to be enough anymore. Then again, future vehicles may well be so complicated that drivers will have to be highly involved with their operation, like an airplane pilot flying on instruments. A driver's ability to process multiple stimuli might be required. We now process a lot of stimuli as we drive, but mostly visual. Hearing is used only for horns, sirens and Harleys, provided they can overcome our stereo or ear-bud volumes. There is only so much one can absorb visually, so it may be a good thing to add extra senses like vibrating seats, to get our attention. Personally, if my seat suddenly vibrated I would think I had a flat tire, so some education would be required. Driving would require our full concentration for the duration of every trip. Imagine that.

One day it will be easier. We will put the vehicles on autopilot. We'll just tell them a destination, and sit back and text our butts off, or chill out to music, and wait for the computers to take us safely to wherever, at break-neck speed, with no chance for human error to screw it up. Just think about how dependable our computer systems are now, protecting our credit cards and bringing us our cable and satellite television without a hitch. With computers in control, what could possibly go wrong?

I hope the cars will still have windshields, and manual over-ride controls. The geeks probably think that would increase the accident ratio, because the incoming data would be more than an un-stimulated human could process. They're probably right. I still want a windshield. It's a "guy" thing.

Maybe what we need is horse-drawn carriages with horses that know the way home. It worked for thousands of years. I could be the town blacksmith. Who needs cyberspace? We could shovel up the emissions and use it to fertilize our crops. The kids could do that while they twittered each other. Imagine that.



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