On April 4, 2013 Morgan Frick Williams left her home in Seattle and drove her car to her office in downtown Bellevue. Normally Morgan took the bus across the 520 bridge, but on that day she was going to drive to Bellingham after work to visit an old high school friend who was in a hospice. However in the pre-dawn morning just before she reached the bridge Morgan’s car was met head on by an SUV driving in the wrong direction. Morgan never made it to work, nor will she ever again as the accident took her life. Another victim in a preventable crime that takes nearly 10,000 American lives per year. To put that in perspective, on average every night of the year on 27 occasions across the country a police officer notifies someone with words such as “I am sorry sir, your son is dead”.
I remember the morning of the accident. Turning on King 5 news that morning and being greeted by live footage at the crime scene. Knowing the bridge well it was evident without hesitation that it was a drunk driving accident. The fact that the bridge was closed east bound meant a fatality had occurred. It seemed senseless. Like all drunk driving incidents it seems like it should be preventable. The only problem is to prevent these tragic deaths we have one factor to consider..we are human. We are prone to making poor decisions. Susceptible to addictions. Emotionless at times to the lives of others. Then when all is said and done we have emotions left to live with such as guilt, remorse, regret. depression and pain for those who commit the crime. Those who lose loved ones they live with something far worse, emptiness. Then once they emerge anger and hate, man kinds worst level of emotion.
On the horizon however there is hope. Technology is making breakthroughs that in time will enable those leaving a friend’s party, a dive bar. a corporate Christmas party, in fact name the event, but those that are either mildly intoxicated or severely will get into a car and say”Drive me home”. It will remove the greatest risk, the human risk. Sound far-fetched? Not really, most of the technology exists today. How many people reading this blog use their smartphone Maps application to navigate unfamiliar roads? For years there has been a robotics auto races. The Defense Advanced Research Program Agency (DARPA) has sponsored the “Grand Challenge” since 2004. It has since changed into other challenges, the next events scheduled here in 2013. It has morphed into an event that will not require vehicles as that domain is conquered. It will actually be what was once fictional, humanoid robots. The reason being the easy piece, car navigation has become boring.
It is a change that will happen in society and a change, I believe, that is inevitable. There will be many hurdles to overcome. the first being legal. Most states today don’t yet have laws in place that encompass robotic vehicles. As this technology rolls out there will be the trial and error effect. It will lead to lawsuits, which will be nice for a lot of “starving” lawyers, who are a beastly bunch. But the upside to our country will be immense. Both our aging auto industry and are nascent technology sector are behind these efforts. The car is changing. As Bill Ford said it is becoming a platform. Like an iPhone (and with an iPhone in the car) you are seeing apps being built with a car in a mind.
As a society we are almost all using a GPS service, either on our iPhone or Android device. They are not perfect but can get us to our destination without fail over ninety percent of the time. In a robotics world they will occasionally deliver us to the wrong destination. But as with all technology the rough curves will be smoothed out until it ceases to be an issue. Like the dawn of the POC age a car will improve and increase its onboard processing capabilities in time. I stated with 4mb RAM and a 40mb hard disk. Just twenty tears later we talk in gigs of memory and are now seeing terabytes of hard disk space. The robotic car will follow this same path as it matures over time.
Bill Gates is one of the most optimistic people, when it comes to technology, that I have ever heard and I have no doubt he would echo my positive sentiment on this one. The downside is, before this change takes place, there will be not just one or two more Morgan Frick William’s incidents, there will likely be tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of cases just like what we saw and read about on the 520 bridge, In the time since I started writing this blog entry hundreds of lives have been lost. Robotics is set to become a gigantic part of our present. With it many lives will be saved as we will have a means for the drunk driver to not drive, to take away the human element of these travesties
We live in a world where we are almost numb to disturbing, violent and often tragic news. It could be the latest terrorist attack, gun shootings, rape,. pick your poison it is likely to be a daily news story. But in many instances we have one of the greatest human conditions at work; hope. There is around the corner advancements taking place that could one day reduce (not eradicate) a tragedy that has been on place since Henry Ford created the automotive assembly line. The robotics revolution is upon us and it will enable people like Morgan Frick Williams to have a boring drive to work and except for those that know her, we will not know her name. And society will be better for it. More importantly her family and the tens of thousands of lives saved will be better for it.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann April 24, 2013