They’re Coming to Take Us Away

Loyal readers of this space know we’ve been closely tracking the ongoing debate about whether to permit drone flights in domestic U.S. airspace.

The FAA currently is evaluating six U.S. sites as potential test flight centers for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), also known as drones (the Wright-Patterson facility in Ohio is a leading contender). Most of our elected representatives in Washington are gung-ho for the idea, especially in districts with manufacturers who would thrive if the demand for “domestic” drones takes off. Thus far, they’ve been stymied by a handful of civil-liberties and air-safety fuddyduddys who wonder whether filling our skies with robot planes will fatally compromise our right to privacy, to say nothing of the occasional commercial airliner they may bump into.

While we’ve been watching the skies, it looks like the ground may have shifted under our feet.

The plans for mass-producing driverless cars aren’t even on the drawing boards of the major automakers, but a new survey shows that an astounding 60 percent of U.S. motorists are ready to welcome robot cars on American roads.

IT networking giant Cisco this week released the results of its study on the importance of high-tech gadgets to today’s car buyers. Not surprisingly, the Cisco survey found consumers completely enamored with the latest computer-driven automotive capabilities, from cars that park themselves to voice-activated menus for nearby Chinese restaurants.

But the real eyebrow-raiser in the survey was the response to Cisco’s question asking drivers whether they’re ready to trust driverless cars to drive them around.

The results are fascinating. Three nations with emerging automotive markets — and, presumably less experience with driving — gave driverless cars the biggest thumbs up. About 95 percent said yes in Brazil, 86 percent in India and 70 percent in China. They were followed by the U.S. at 60 percent, Russia at 57 percent and Canada at 52 percent.

But in Japan, the nation that has the most experience with robots of any kind, only 28 percent of respondents indicated they would be inclined to slide into the passenger seat of a driverless car. Also, when the risk-taking is expanded from the individual to the family, enthusiasm predictably declines for the driverless car. Fewer respondents in the Cisco survey said they were willing to put their kids in a robot vehicle.

The Cisco survey results may reflect the shape of things to come. Driverless cars probably will be tooling down a highway near you sooner than you think.

The psychological roadblock to the driverless vehicle apparently was shattered by the Google car. The Internet search giant’s robot test vehicle thus far has logged more than 300,000 miles without incident. Google says the technology for a true “fully autonomous driverless car” is still about five years away. Motor Trend, the car magazine, predicts that driverless cars will be in mass production by 2025.

The Cisco survey also revealed that consumers’ trust for automated vehicles extends beyond the steering wheel: the study found that 74 percent of drivers would be fine with their car tracking their driving habits if they could save on insurance and maintenance costs; 65 percent said they would be willing to share their height, weight, driving habits and entertainment preferences with car manufacturers in return for a more “custom” driving experience.

In the same week that Cisco’s survey results were released, the National Transportation Safety Board has proposed to lower the federal blood alcohol level threshold for drunk driving from .08 to .05, a drop of more than a third from the current standard.

Coincidence? We think not. Obviously, there’s some sort of a master plan falling into place here:

STEP 1: Track our movements with drones.

STEP 2: Take our car keys away.

STEP 3: Ply us with alcohol and entice us to recline in the ergonomically designed passenger seat of a driverless car that knows we can be lulled into a mindless sense of euphoria by the smell of Corinthian leather and the sound of Bohemian Rhapsody coming out of 16 speakers.

STEP 4: Deposit us at mass “rehabilitation” centers that have secretly been constructed on former ballistic missile launch sites in the Great Plains.


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