COLUMN: Driving may have more challenges than winter

I have to wonder how “driverless” cars will cope with snow, black ice and pedestrians in dark clothing...

Thank you Hawaii, for sending us two glorious days and a reminder that spring can’t be far away.

Despite that, I wasn’t too happy with the rains of the Pineapple Express that preceded the record warm temperatures of Sunday and Monday.

Ironic, however, was that as we were bathed in sun, the eastern seaboard of North America was bracing for what Monday night was portending to be an historic winter storm.

Obviously it is better to live with the proximity to pineapples than it is Big Apples. States-of-emergency were declared from New Jersey to Maine, snowfalls expected to reach 90 centimeters in Boston, and Canada’s Maritime provinces also battening the hatches.

Back on this side of the country, while significantly more pleasant, the balmy weather appeared to have created some confusion in the natural world.

I heard tree frogs croaking, and by Sunday evening even a pond frog announced his presence. Bulbs are poking their shoots up and a Facebook friend even posted a pic of a salamander wandering his farm, the warm temperatures encouraging these normally dormant or hibernating creatures to emerge, albeit briefly.

Unfortunately, what also emerged in my yard Sunday afternoon were mosquitoes! Biting bugs in January are unheard of here.

Fortunately, evening frost likely killed them off, hopefully before they had time to lay eggs, and negated the need to unearth repellent.

That I’m sure, will wait for another day because despite current double digit temperatures, I would be surprised if winter doesn’t revisit us between now and when spring and mosquito-eating swallows return in earnest.

So with thoughts of winter still somewhat on my mind, I have to wonder how “driverless” cars will cope with snow, black ice and pedestrians in dark clothing.

Google, the great saviour of information seekers, claims that within two to five years people will be riding in self-driving cars, though it does admit that they will within that time frame still be test vehicles.

And if you think the concept is nonsense, Google says it has had a unit operating without problems on a test track since December, and in fact has racked up more than 700,000 miles on public roads without causing a crash (though apparently in the latter accomplishment there were real people behind the wheel just in case something went wrong).

Intriguingly, several U.S. states, in great strides of faith and conviction to technology, have already passed laws allowing autonomous (driverless) cars on public roads.

And quite the cars they will be if they are anything like the Mercedes concept car debuted at the innovative CES (Consumer Electronics Show) earlier this month. This large egg-shaped vehicle allows its four passengers to sit facing each other just like in a lounge.

Gives whole new meaning to Greyhound’s signature slogan – “Leave the driving to us” – except there won’t be any “us” other than sensors, cameras and some pretty amazing computers.

Google is leading the way in developing software and sensors to actually get these vehicles into common use on the road, although it has yet to figure out how to make money on its cars. Knowing the incredible financial success it has had with other things its wizards have developed, I’m sure they’ll do just fine.

I’m also sure that at least in my lifetime such cars will be few and far between on British Columbia’s mountainous and often wintery roads.

markrushton@abbynews.com

 

 

 

 

 

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