Driverless Cars: Sci-Fi or Imminent Reality?

The Google Car

The New York Times ran a story this month about Google X, a “top-secret” lab in the San Francisco Bay Area where Google’s crafting its version of the technological future.  Among the experiments is the Google driverless car, one of which was let loose on California roads last year. Whether because I relish the act of driving, or hesitate to give up ultimate vehicular control to a computer (knowing how often my laptop freezes), I’m not sure but, the driverless car concept doesn’t sit well with me. Surely, the idea’s a sky-high pipe-dream that will go the way of boil-in-the-bag dinners and MySpace. Right?

But my research proves humbling. Who knew the autonomous car concept dates back to 1939? That’s when the “Futurama” exhibit at the New York World’s Fair promised to introduce visitors to “the world of tomorrow”, aka. 1960. Designer Norman bel Geddes created a miniature landscape complete with farm land, urban spaces, and a roadway system to neatly tie them together. Ultimately, the exhibit, which was sponsored by General Motors, was promoting a tax-payer funded, interstate freeway. But Geddes was already thinking ahead to the traffic problems that could arise in such a future so his vision included not only vehicle ownership, but specifically ownership of radio-controlled, electric vehicles.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Not only has the driverless car concept failed to fade, it’s being implemented in both the public and private sectors! Take the Netherlands, for example, where the city of Rotterdam successfully runs a public transportation fleet of six automated people movers. And just this month, Reuter’s reported mining company Rio Tinto ordered 150 driverless trucks to aid in hauling ore mined in Australia. The future is already here!

None of which makes me feel any better… the autonomous car concept still strikes me as unnatural. But then, so did CDs and smartphones and… now I’m proficient at both. Google’s already revolutionized the way we search for information. Why not let it take that forward-thinking show on the road?

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Winter Driving Kit

The holiday travel season is upon us which means it’s also time to prepare for inclement weather. We on the West Coast may not see frequent snowstorms – at least in the valleys – but that doesn’t mean we’re not at risk of getting stuck out on the open road. So, in the interest of survival, let’s revisit the idea of a Winter Driving Kit. Here’s what ODOT suggests you in your vehicle at all times:

Make sure your vehicle is stocked with the following:

  • Rechargeable flashlight
  • Cell phone and charger
  • Extra food and water
  • Flares
  • Tools: jack, lug wrench, shovel
  • Road maps
  • Blanket/sleeping bag(s)
  • Extra warm clothes, boots, hat and gloves
  • First aid kit
  • Pocket knife
  • Matches or lighter
  • Battery jumper cables
  • Ice scraper and snow brush
  • Paper towels
  • Extra washer fluid
  • Chains or traction tires
  • A full fuel tank

Source (and for more on winter driving): http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/COMM/winterdriving.shtml

Drive safely!

Intangibles… or, What Makes Your Vehicle “Yours”?

We recently received an email from a potential customer we’d spent a considerable amount of time with; a man in search of a new car for his wife. The letter was lovely, appreciative… and apologetic. Because while he had considered all the cars we’d shown him to be excellent choices, she had not fallen in love with any of them.

“Love” is one of those words you could define for the rest of your life and never unravel its essence. When it comes to “loving” a hunk of steel on four wheels (or two… motorcycle lovers are a loyal breed) there are the pragmatic issues: Can I afford it? How’s the gas mileage? Is there seating for the whole family? There are the aesthetic issues: Do I like the way it looks? Does the color fit my personality? Will the beige interior stain when the kids spill grape juice? And then there’s the grand intangible: Does it feel like me?
There are those who say a vehicle “fits” them if they can afford it and it meets certain rational needs like towing capacity, payload, comfort. But others of us look for the *irrational*. I’ve driven – and enjoyed – lots of cars and trucks and, if given the option of having more than one set of wheels in my driveway, I might even consider signing on the dotted line. But just because I have fun in, and appreciate the many attributes of, a vehicle does NOT mean I’d want to own it. I know what I’m looking for, and it’s not stuff that can be explained (see http://butlerautogroup.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/left-brain-or-right-brain-which-side-makes-your-vehicle-decisions/) although I do have to like the way it drives, feel safe and comfortable, and be able to afford the payments (guess the the Batmobile’s out of the picture). Other features, like power windows, I can live without. I’m looking for something low-maintenance, fun-driven, adventurous, durable… kinda like a Tonka truck. What makes a vehicle feel like it fits you? What’re your intangibles?

Oh, no… Snow! Everything You and Your Vehicle Need for Winter Driving

Snow levels in Southern Oregon are forecast to drop to their lowest so far this season over the next 24 hours. Whether your plans are to drive north for the UO Duck game, south to warmer climes, or just around town, you’ll want your vehicle ready to handle the cold, and potentially slick, streets. In the interest of physical safety and peace of mind, here’s a list of links to help you and your car, truck or SUV weather winter driving conditions.

Winterizing your vehicle:

http://www.edmunds.com/how-to/winterize-your-vehicle.html

http://www.weather.com/activities/driving/drivingsafety/drivingsafetytips/winterize.html

http://www.autointheknow.com/winter%E2%80%99s-worst-can-be-beaten/

Driving in snow and ice:

http://www.edmunds.com/car-safety/driving-on-snow-and-ice-10-safety-tips.html?articleid=124638

http://www.weather.com/activities/driving/drivingsafety/drivingsafetytips/snow.html

http://www.safemotorist.com/articles/winter_driving.aspx

http://www.smartmotorist.com/driving-guideline/how-to-handle-your-car-on-snow-and-ice.html

Studded Tires, Traction Tires and Chains
(Oregon’s studded tire season started November 1st and runs through March 31st.)

Oregon’s chain law:
http://www.tripcheck.com/Pages/RCMap.asp?mainNav=RoadConditions&staticNav=ChainLaws

Chain requirements:
http://www.tripcheck.com/Pages/RCMap.asp?mainNav=RoadConditions&staticNav=MinChainReqs

Traction tires:
http://www.tripcheck.com/Pages/RCMap.asp?mainNav=RoadConditions&staticNav=TractionTires

Tire reviews:
http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/cars/tires-auto-parts/tires/index.htm

Up-to-the-minute local weather conditions:

http://www.tripcheck.com/Pages/RCMap.asp?mainNav=RoadConditions&curRegion=7

Interstate 5 Siskiyou Pass roadcam:
http://www.tripcheck.com/popups/Cam.asp?curRegion=7&camera=1688&camera=1685&camera=1682&camera=1669&camera=512&camera=625

Interstate 5 Sexton Pass roadcam:
http://www.tripcheck.com/popups/Cam.asp?curRegion=7&camera=511&camera=510

Interstate 5 at Hilt, CA roadcam:
http://www.tripcheck.com/popups/Cam.asp?curRegion=7&camera=611

U.S. Highway 99 at Hayes Hill Summit roadcam:
http://www.tripcheck.com/popups/Cam.asp?curRegion=7&camera=505