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    • I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the SXSW 2019 screening last night of the new documentary film AUTONOMY. With its debut just three days ago on March 9, this film is on the cutting edge - as are the subjects it covers. It's a love letter to the automobile, and a passionate discussion about its future.

      The film begins with a general overview of autonomous vehicles in history, and what are the capabilities that drive (*pun intended) them. There's a push/ pull dynamic set up in the film between the forces of innovation and invention driving towards an increasingly digital future, and those who are passionate for an analog and more hands on present and past. The documentary outlines that Henry Ford created modern society and a Detroit that defined modernity and progress the 20th Century - while Silicon Valley is defining the 21st.

      The automatic control idea for cars is not a new one. These ideas were introduced as early as 1911 in early films.

      While other references to autonomous vehicle ideas were present in pop culture with shows
      like KNIGHT RIDER...

      Movies like TOTAL RECALL...

      And even shows like The Jetsons.  Leonardo DaVinci made designs for vehicles in the 15th
      century. The beauty of vintage vehicles is highlighted, and an Orange County collectors group, The Drag'n Knights, who assembles their own cars entirely by hand is featured, along with another analog car enthusiast, Akira Nakai, who customizes vintage Porches. Akira is passionate about design and analog experience above all: for him, a car is a work of art.

    • The film then delves into how, similar to the Cambrian Explosion in evolution 450 million years ago, where eyes drove an explosive pace of evolution, the same is true for autonomous vehicle technology and cameras.

      It's now possible, according to Jack Weast from INTEL, for cars to have 6,8,
      12 cameras and light and radar sensors - multi-leveraged to be superior to human vision.

    • The parallel development of many instrumental autonomous vehicle features is profiled. For example, in 1977, Japan's Tsukuba Laboratories was one of the leading forces working on developing early autonomous technology. Similarly, Ernst Dickmanns (*who is interviewed in the film) is referred to as an autonomous pioneer who was thought of in his time as crazy. His experiment of balancing a pole on an electro-cart with a camera that adjusted the electro-cart was the first to do this perception / adjustment in real time.

      The film also features extensive discussion around the DARPA grand challenge. Chris Umson
      is interviewed several times in the film, and was the 2007 DARPA winner, which was the first challenge with a variety of vehicles interacting in a pseudo-urban environment.

    • As technology for autonomous vehicles advances, what are the implications - socially, morally, and economically?

      Noted autonomous car journalist and writer Tamara Warren asks, in reference to the phrasing of "autonomous cars" - "Whose autonomy are we talking about?" Is it our autonomy as humans? Or the cars' autonomy? There's a sense of fear about "the other" of an autonomous vehicle. You can't read the body language of a car.

      A fascinating experiment that's profiled is Andy Schaudt's "seat suit" tests, where he's developed a concealment for a human inside the seat of a car to gauge reactions and body language of pedestrians who "think" they are interacting with an autonomous vehicle. They are developing a "new language" for these autonomous vehicles to convey interaction - in hopes that this language will be universal enough to translate cross-vehicle and prevent pedestrian harm.

      Eddie Alterman, editor of CAR+DRIVER magazine, provides commentary and insights throughout the film. He talks about the impact of Detroit as being seen as unsophisticated and of the past, similar to cars in and of themselves, as compared to them to Silicon Valley and software, which are seen as fast-paced and futuristic. However, he feels that cars are surprisingly complex and important to engineer. He's quoted as saying that Chrysler,
      GM and Ford car releases were the "Apple product launches of their day."

      These autonomous vehicles are bringing up new worlds of opportunity for people who may be unable to drive for a variety of reasons. For example, the film talks to "The Steamers" - a group of senior citizens who are retired STEM professionals who live in an assisted living home called Friendship Village in Arizona, which has become the leading state for autonomous cars. Their experience and willingness to embrace new technology is similar to that of another person profiled, teenager Kylo: she and her friends love Waymo vehicles, and she doesn't have a driver's license. It seems increasingly unlikely that they will ever get driver's licenses.

      Malcolm Gladwell, the producer of the film, provides commentary throughout. From his thoughts on regulation to mass transit, the art of the automobile to travel efficiencies, he shares his thoughts and insights on this important field.

      These are complicated ideas, exciting ideas, and the viewer is left to take in all of them - along with gorgeous footage of cars of past, present, and concept cars of the future.

      You can stay updated on the film's upcoming screenings and release details on the official AUTONOMY site.

      And of course - the film wraps on the perfect note.

    • Between the automation of automobiles and the transition from gas to electric, the economic implications are going to be insane.

      Electric cars have fewer moving parts and don’t require routine oil changes, which threatens the auto parts industry and “quick lube” shops like Jiffy Lube. Not too mention the millions of gas stations around the country who will likely suffer because most folks will opt to charge at home or work.

      And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Autonomous vehicles will eventually replace professional drivers. In the US alone that includes over 200,000 taxi drivers and 3+ million truck drivers! Not to mention the reduction in the need for auto insurance and collision repair. And since autonomous vehicles will be programmed to obey traffic laws there will be significant decreases in law enforcement funding from fines. And unless an autonomous vehicle comes with some sort of change dispenser the panhandlers are going to have to abandon their street corners to beg for change (does panhandling count as an industry?).

    • Fascinating, Jim. Malcolm Gladwell has been in the news the last couple of days saying it’s inevitable hacker will hack 200 of them at once to cause an accident, and it’s possible they will increase congestion.

      It seems there is something terrifying about them to us humans. I wonder if we’ll just get used them and shrug like we have done with cars, or stay terrified as we are of air travel.

    • Electric cars have fewer moving parts and don’t require routine oil changes, which threatens the auto parts industry and “quick lube” shops like Jiffy Lube. Not too mention the millions of gas stations around the country who will likely suffer because most folks will opt to charge at home or work.

      Another implication that hadn't even occurred to me until I got an electric car: most (maybe all?) electric cars use regenerative braking to recapture energy when you lift off the accelerator pedal.

      Since regenerative braking uses motor resistance to reduce speed instead of using the actual brakes, electric cars put much less wear on their brake pads. In fact, Elon Musk has said the Tesla Model 3's brake pads might never need replacing during the lifetime of the car with normal driving.

      So there goes thousands of brake shops too!

    • The even bigger disruption is going to be autonomous trucks. Trucking is one of top industries in something like 45 states. Small towns that serve as waypoints for truckers will disappear. No more truck stops, etc.

      There will be a few opportunities. For eaxample I explored building stations to install chains on autonomous trucks on each side of mountain passes. There will also probably be temp drivers for autonomous vechicles for entering cities and for feeder trucks from autonomous truck hubs. At least in the early days.