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Please kill me now

March 7, 2017
VW Sedric concept

Volkswagen unveiled its Sedric autonomous car concept at the Geneva Auto Show (VW Group photos)

Disruption is the word these days. Just about anything you can think of is undergoing (or about to) a tectonic shift. Amazon continues to disrupt retail. Spotify, Pandora, et al disrupted iTunes, which disrupted the music biz. The auto industry faces disruption of its business model, its leaders scrambling to find a way forward.

One of those possible ways forward was suggested by Volkswagen Group, which unveiled its Sedric concept (above) at the Geneva Auto Show Monday.

Sedric (short for SElf-DRIving Concept) is the latest in a series of self-driving concept cars for the brave new world of the mid-21st century.

Sedric concept interior

Like the others, Sedric’s interior lacks a steering wheel and pedals, offering the all comforts of its likely occupants’ 196-square-foot apodments as it silently whisks them to their hackathons and $12 grilled-cheese sandwich cafes.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really glad I won’t live to see the world Sedric represents.

If you find yourself thinking it looks like an angry toaster, you’re not alone, not by a long shot.

What’s especially puzzling is why something named Sedric, which I’m guessing is supposed to sound friendly and engender warm fuzzies, looks so angry. I can picture it thinking, “grrrr, the next schmuck that rides in me is gonna get THE RIDE OF THEIR LIFE!”

Which actually is why I think the era of self-driving vehicles will be short one.

Hate to burst your bubble, but computer software is not, repeat NOT 100% fail safe. Not even close. If it were, there would be no reason for those regular, frequent updates of the apps on your smartphones. Especially the ones labeled “bug fix” and “security patch.”

Sedric on the street

Are you one of the many (many, many) iPhone owners whose phones bricked when you tried to upgrade to iOS 9 or 10? Well, the same people responsible for that adventure will be the ones writing the software for autonomous cars like Sedric.

I used to be a code jockey. I was quite good at it; everything I built was rock-solid and easy to maintain. Unfortunately, my co-workers did not hold themselves to such high standards, so I spent most of my time cleaning up their messes. At times, in the middle of the night, after being awakened from a sound sleep. Sedric’s passengers won’t have that luxury if he decides to come to a full stop on the railroad tracks just as the Amtrak Cascades is bearing down on him. (Geez, I’m talking about the angry toaster as if it were a sentient being. I guess the warm fuzzies are in full effect…).

Then there’s the matter of the Internet of Things, which has proven ridiculously easy to hack. Do you really want to be Sedric’s passenger when someone in Bulgaria starts messing with him?

It is this and more that will make autonomous vehicles a historical footnote. Especially an American judicial system that’s totally okay with the idea of someone getting drunk and flying their Cessna 172 into the side of a mountain being Cessna’s fault.

When I was learning to code, one of my instructors told us to remember that tech is not always the solution to a given problem. Formal driver training (and I don’t mean the Advanced Parallel Parking that passes for Driver Ed in the schools that still offer it) would reduce the already low numbers of traffic deaths and injuries.

And where cars don’t work, scooters do. See: Hanoi, HCMC, Taipei.

One Comment
  1. March 7, 2017 7:36 pm

    I keep thinking that if I wanted to ride in something I don’t have to drive, I’d ride in a train, or a bus, or a taxi. And I do ride in these things, and they’re here now, and they’re a lot less complicated than a self-driving car.

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