Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Electric Vehicles, Driverless vehicles – the future is backwards

In a few years, we’re all going to be jumping into our electric cars and putting up our feet while we’re driven to work. We might even read a book on the way, or our car might do the reading for us while we gaze with bleary eyes at the passing scenery, not quite awake from our slumber. Sci-Fi would have us think this, but there’s a sci-fi future that looks a little different. Technology does not always move in the direction we expect.

Take your morning bowl of cereal, for example. Perhaps in the future our milk will come to us, fresh each morning, delivered by an autonomous, intelligent drone with a super-low-carbon footprint.
Well, a century or so ago that’s exactly what happened. The vehicle was a horse-drawn milk cart. It knew the route; the driver/milkman didn’t need to guide the vehicle, it knew the way. Then, when they reached a row of houses the four-legged AI processor was able to keep the cart moving, in pace with the human, who took the bottles to each doorstep. Very efficient. No noise apart from the restful clippity-clop of hooves, and low carbon emissions from the 100% bio-fuel power unit.

Then we had technological progress. Enter the electric milk float in the early 1900s. Yep, that’s right, 1900 and we had electric vehicles. In fact, by 1967 the UK had more electric vehicles on its roads than the rest of the world put together. They were nearly all milk floats. But now the milkman had to stay awake and drive his milk round because he’d lost the AI module at the front. But still, milk floats were quiet – with their open or sliding door – they non-polluting, and they were efficient.
Then we had more technological “progress”. The milk companies started to switch to diesel vans. So not only did the milkman have to stay awake, he ensured that everyone else on his round, his customers, were awake also. Jolted from their dreams by the steady knock-knock of the idling diesel, the revving engine, the opening and slamming of the van door outside every house. And if the window was open they could smell the fumes, blue and oily, and laced with particulates. 


Progress didn’t end there. Now we drive to the supermarket in our own cars and load up with a week’s supply of milk. The milkman is virtually extinct. Electric vehicles – gone. Artificial intelligent guidance systems – gone. Until Google re-invent them.





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