Driverless cars.

Driverless cars are the epitome of our collected vision for the future (30 years ago). Right up there with jetpacks. 

Technology is catching up with our vision and we're starting to see driverless cars as a real possibility. Google estimates they'll have one on the road between 2017 and 2020.  

In case you're not up-to-date on the ins and outs of the driverless car industry, The Telegraph put together a great video about how driverless cars work. 

Like the masses, I am enamored with the idea of a productive commute to work or the option to watch a movie on my drive to a nearby city.

The Telegraph also has a great video of one of their reporters in the driver's seat of a driverless car. 

It's interesting to hear the reporter talk about his experience. He is surprised how easy it was for him to relinquish control to the car and also surprised by how much effort it took to drive once he started driving again–he had to pay attention. While the car is driving, he talks about the freedom he has to text and use his phone.

I see this is a failure. 

Because we don't have faith in the technology, we are designing these cars so a human can easily take over the wheel and manually drive if needed. It's likely the first version released will follow that exact model.

This is problematic for a few reasons:

  1. I think we are underestimating the mind-shift that will need to happen when we go from the car driving to a manual drive. Switching back and forth between driving and passively riding would be a hard transition. Think about all the times you've made mistakes in your life when you've gone on auto-pilot and forgotten to pay attention to what you're doing. If you're volleying back and forth between a human-operated and car-operated environment, without a significant change in your position, you may forget you're driving and begin to make mistakes. In fact, Google has reported two accidents with their self-driving cars, both times the accident was due to an error by a human.
  2. The inside of the car could be a lot cooler if it is not designed to mimic the current interior of a car. Imagine all of the passengers could face each other. Or you could ride an exercise bike or an ellipitical machine while riding (the irony of that statement is not lost on me). Or you could take a nap while the car is driving. Or you could just take a few moments to take in the scenery and enjoy the ride, immersing yourself in your environment instead of facing straight ahead. 
  3. Whatever we go to market with initially is likely to be the model all others will mimic. If we rush to market when the technology isn't quite ready we'll find ourselves at the mercy of incremental innovation and it will take years for us to realize the full-benefits driverless cars could provide us. In the meantime the companies responsible for the innovation will make loads of money off of us and we throw away and upgrade with each shiny, new version, perpetuating a wasteful consumer marketplace. 
  4. At some point a driverless car will be involved in an accident and the driverless car will be to blame. It is inevitable. It will scare us. We'll have lawyers and consumers fighting against and demonizing the technology. It will create an opportunity for politicians to grandstand and everyone will have an opinion on how the technology should work–whether or not they have any knowledge of how things work will be irrelevant. 

So how do we get around this?

Design for the fringe

Instead of designing the car for rich people who want to check their email on their commute to work, we should design the car for the people who haven't benefited, thus far, from our car culture

The perfect "driver" for a driverless car is someone who can't drive. 

Imagine the innovation we could get to if we design the driverless car for someone who is blind. Or someone who is deaf. Or someone who has no arms or legs

Instead of incremental innovation we might find radically innovative solutions. Sure, it *might* take more time to get to market -- but when we get to market we'll have better faith in the underlying technology.

So the driverless car doesn't go the way of Google glass, it's worth considering.

My pal Holly Stiles of Disability Rights NC has thought a lot about the opportunity here. If you're working on a driverless car, I recommend you get in touch with her. She has ideas worth sharing.