Friday, November 28, 2008

11-28-08: The Theory of the Alpha Driver; Automated Highway Driving

I hope every one had a lovely Thanksgiving. I for one had a great time at my aunt and uncle's in Duxbury, MA. My uncle cooks a mean turkey dinner, and the fact that they have a sweet pool table set up in their barn always helps. You see, I am one of eight cousins on my mother's side. The two males are: myself at 23 and my cousin Quinton at 20... months. So there's a bit of an age gap. So, I played a lot of pool yesterday. It was still quite fun. My uncle's brother Bob was visiting from California. I haven't seen him in quite a while, and he's a pretty neat guy.

The only tough part of yesterday was, as to be expected, the travel. Duxbury is normally about a 3-3.5 hour drive. It took us nearly 5 hours yesterday. We hit our first major pocket getting onto I-84 in Hartford, which is pretty normal. We then hit pockets on I-84, then when we got into Massachusetts it was a nightmare. We took all sorts of back roads and ended up taking Route 20 for a bit. The worst part was that Route 3 was pretty much shut down because of an accident, so we had to take Route 3A, which wasn't thrilling but it got us there eventually.

Sitting in the car for all that time allowed me to do more research on what I call the Theory of the Alpha Driver. An "Alpha Driver" is similar to an "Alpha Male" in many respects. Alpha Drivers are overly confident, and see driving as a form of sport. It's not just a race: it's a game of survival.

I drove up with my parents in a rented minivan. My mom wanted to take our older dog (who is 13) and the two little ones (9 months and 6 months). My dad made the drive up.

Now, to defend my dad, I will not directly call him an Alpha Driver. But I will just say that his driving may or may not have given me more data for my research.

Alpha Drivers are different than other drivers (no, I won't call them Beta or Gamma Drivers) in that they see it as their right to tailgate, speed, change lanes, or whatever they feel like, with little to no regard for the other drivers on the road. On top of that, when they do, on occasion, let some one go ahead of them, they seem to expect something in return from that driver, usually in the form of driving just like said Alpha Driver. For example, Andy the Alpha Driver lets Bob the normal driver ahead of him at an on-ramp. Bob merges, but decides to go the average 5-miles-per-hour-over-the-speed-limit speed. Andy the Alpha Driver, upset that someone HE let in front of him drives like that, angrily changes lanes and passes Bob the normal driver, giving him the "look of death" as he passes Bob.

Completely unnecessary, folks. Seeing all this happen yesterday, coupled with the reports that Thanksgiving is still the deadliest travel holiday, really makes me wonder when we'll develop automated driving technology like that seen in Demolition Man and iRobot. Apparently there's been some serious research (I can't find the article right now but I think I posted something about this some time ago) into highways that employ a sort of technology that allows you to put your car in auto-pilot and cruise at outrageously fast speeds, but still quite safely.

There are a couple things about automated driving that I think are significantly safer, and more efficient in general, than most human driving. First, human beings are naturally aggressive. There are a lot of Alpha Drivers out there who see driving as nothing more than "I need to get there as fast as I can." No need for that, as it's flat out dangerous. Automated driving could save lives because it would allow for faster cruise speeds and have no emotional baggage attached. As processing power increases, it will make total sense in the future to employ that technology.

The other aspect that would make automated driving useful is in the fuel efficiency realm. Alpha Drivers tend to accelerate and decelerate far too aggressively, which wastes gas. Again, no need for that. In fact, you really don't save much time by going that fast in the first place. The risk-reward is far too great. And if it saves you money on gas, why not try it?

In general, I only see this sort of technology useful in long-distance driving on major highways. Side street driving, though still riddled with Alpha Drivers, wouldn't really benefit right now from an automated solution. But still, if it saves lives, we should look into it.

No comments: