Just for fun: A day of our robot car

2036. 5th birthday of our robot car! Embedded into our life really fast and deeply, we consider her just like a family member, so even named her: Berta, that is. Nomen est omen, of course, her full name is Roberta, and, well, her behavior is rather similar to the cleaning lady in Two and a half men. Sometimes useful, sometimes annoying.

That’s a real robot car indeed, Level 5, not a driving assistant returning control in case of trouble. We purchased at the very moment when it was safe enough to trust her to carry kids without any sort of adult supervision. School, back and forth, whenever needed. I would say that’s the ultimate Turing-test of self-driving cars: would you dare to trust the car to transport your kid, similarly to your trust in a human driver? As long as you would not, it’s nothing more than a game.

That’s the ultimate Turing-test of self-driving cars: would you dare to trust the car to transport your kid, similarly to your trust in a human driver?

Sometimes this morning our car just came back from the five-year service — displayed earlier that brakes should be checked (fortunately brakes wear out slower than in traditional cars), time to swap for summer tires and we also asked for a new style for the driving software. It is extremely convenient that service points moved into night shifts recently: Berta leaves the garage at the lowest late-evening traffic, returning in the morning only, fresh and ready for the day.

Well, once she is on the go, we also loaded a shopping list, so she can drop in to the Walmart automatic pick-up point as well (or was it Amazon? We simply pressed repeat purchase, so I am not really sure). Oops, I should not forget to unload the boot, that’s still manual. By the way, some of the warehouses also provide battery top-up, convenience at its best.

Oh, software, yes. Driving logic is different in each car, and you may also request different driving styles on top of the default system. Now we requested a bit more dynamic style, the kids grow (they always do) so we can accelerate the pace a bit. And why not launch a bit faster at the green light also.Of course, changing into dynamic also increases our insurance fee — it was very interesting to see how insurance companies changed their risk calculation from owner details to typical roads taken and driving software characteristics. For any case, you don’t have much choice, your car is only covered if your insurer has online access to your driving data. Fee re-calculation is quite fast, in exchange.

Kids sit in in the morning, Berta rolls to the school, just like a private school bus, then returns to our garage alone. A few weeks ago we had a bit of a problem, when Berta was on her way back, an unexpected road construction was only signposted physically, and of course the car also got off the grid, so her map lost reality… she experimented with a couple of roads, I must admit. The car was found by tourists later, parking up in the hills — was quite easy to spot, 8 kid transporting cars in one group, same software for all of them. That’s life. For some reason, the coming software patch was nicknamed Alzheimer update. :)

We were very curious about how the car would perform on winter hill roads: slopes up-and-down, snow and ice. Well, it seemed to us it handles winter conditions better than humans, but not a striking difference really. If the car takes too much risk (a software setting again you can personalize) and slips aside, it simply stops. Ice is ice, no friction means gambling, whether human or machine, that’s life. There are some models designed for winter conditions, but they didn’t make too much sense for us, we only have a couple of snowy days.

In the afternoon, kids call the car to the school again — the car is locked to their phones, which is also checked when sitting in. No strangers in the car. Then they are driven to their soccer training, or coming home , whatever the schedule is — we have an online interface for checking their locations and trips. There are many official pick-up points basically everywhere, but parking itself is a rather scarce resource, as everyone tries to send their cars to the cheapest parking facilities available. Sometimes we are much better off, if we set the car to automatic cruising around the soccer club, rather than navigating to a perhaps vacant parking.

We have not used taxi or mass transportation for quite a while. Whenever Berta has some issues, and our other car is also down, we just call our friends to borrow a car for a few days. Usually we find someone who can send us a car. Taxi services still exist, of course, autonomous as well, affordable to those who do not need a full car.

Well, an inconvenient topic: accidents. Rare, but happens. For example, a friend of mine imported a car with Greek (or Italian?) software — regulations were perfectly updated and not a problem at all, but driving habits were different sometimes, so the car had a few scratches here-and-there due to misunderstandings. With the kids’ car, we always go for the defensive driving style: lower speed, giving away priority in riskier situations, or even just parking aside. Cars drive themselves very differently, I must say, depending on the software supplier and the individual settings. Unfortunately, some of the accidents remain mysterious: though a lot of driving related data is logged (whatever is possible), the software provided intelligence is not always clear and repeatable, impossible to debug. Artificial moment of aberration it is classified. In such cases, responsibility and damage is split between the car owner and the driving software supplier, as disputed and agreed between the insurance companies who possess in-depth information about all the software on the market.


The whole topic above was inspired by an event from last week: Technical University of Budapest (BME) organised its 8th Robonaut student contest (webpage in hungarian, so check the pics & vids! :). These small self-driving cars lead me to think about what may really happen when robot cars conquer the mass market and how they will disrupt our everydays beyond traffic itself.

Original publication in hungarian: https://medium.com/@lacikiszely/just-for-fun-robotaut%C3%B3nk-egy-napja-25f278e9e070#.ie4rw6z3e

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