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Connected Cars

Just read that NTT is going to build a global infrastructure that will be focused on the needs of connected cars. The project will be quite comprehensive with the infrastructure consisting of data centers, network backbone and other NTT services. Naturally, the folks at NTT are excited, but it does beg the question as to how we all feel about a “driver-less” car future. I don’t know about you, but I always figured we’d have flying cars before we had versions with no one behind the wheel. George Jetson self- navigated asphalt-free traffic after all. Using that as a reference point, a car where everyone is a passenger is a pretty big leap and generates more than a few questions.

Just how “driverless” is “driverless?” When you think about it, this is a pretty-complicated question. For example, is there any way to manually override or correct a mistake by the car’s driverless driver? For example, the speed of the windshield wipers is an endless argument with the Mrs. – too fast or too slow – I assume the Borg controls it, but why does it care since it probably uses radar? Another question that comes to mind is, although there is technically no driver, but some on board AI is operating the vehicle, does that mean that it gets to control the radio for the entire trip? And how do you let it know that you need to stop to go to the bathroom? And don’t get me started on what window it stops at the local Whataburger to pay versus pick up your Monterrey Melt combo meal.

Another issue surrounding driverless cars is how will they impact car design? Sure, you make the payments on the thing, but if you’re not the one who drives it, does it matter what it looks like? Your vehicle may be able to go from 0 to 60 in under five seconds but it’s not your foot on the accelerator. If you have a car that you don’t drive, does the old question regarding what does the type of car you drive say about you have any relevance anymore—especially since a car smart enough to drive itself will probably be able to answer the question for anybody who might ask. This then begs the question as to whether the growth of driverless cars takes us back to the early days of the model T where everything on the road looks pretty much the same except for the number of seats and maybe the color— “Hey, there’s a four door Spud”.

I think cars without drivers is going to cause some consternation for insurance companies. If we assume that everyone will have a driverless car because their on-board systems allow them to operate in a superior mode than our current human-operated fleet of vehicles, then aren’t we saying that they are “accident proof”, and, if that’s the case, do we need car insurance at all? And even if we still did have insurance, if you were in an accident, who would be at fault? Would you even have to get out of the car or would your car’s computer exchange insurance information with the other vehicle’s and then flip them off as they drive away? Obviously, there are lot of details to be worked out before we see any mass market roll-outs.

Certainly, there are benefits to having cars with no drivers. Old people, for example, will be able to retain their mobility without subjecting fellow drivers to the chaos and carnage that they leave in their wake, but I think there is also some economic dislocation that should be expected. If everything on the road is automatically operated that means that you’re going to have more than a few truck and taxi drivers needing to pursue alternative career paths, unless unions like the Teamsters can intervene on their behalf, leaving us with the paradox of driverless taxis with a guy in the passenger seat trying to run up the fare on unsuspecting tourists.

From a data center perspective, I think driverless cars portend a long period of continued growth as the data processing and storage requirements to support even a single autonomous vehicle are staggering. However, as a future passive passenger, I think there are few questions that need to be answered before I tell my automated chauffeur, “Home, James”.