IS A DRIVERLESS CAR LIKE THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN OF SLEEPY HOLLOW?

John Quidor: The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane.

Sometimes when I think about what the future will be like when autonomous vehicles take over the roads, the tale of the Sleepy Hollow comes to mind. It is the story of a man making his way home on a dark country road, when he hears distant galloping and is frozen with fear by the approach of a horse saddled with a headless man. Though dead and lacking the usual above shoulder attachment, the figure races forward with purpose and precision. Though there are differences, the autonomous car can also be scary. A recent article in the New York Times describes explicit hostility where this technology is being tested because of safety and job loss concerns. Deadly accidents are one factor that put the kibosh on consumer acceptance which is in flux.  A AAA survey reveals that most drivers are not comfortable with sharing the road with driverless cars.

Like the evolution of living beings, technology is a work in progress that depends on endless experimentation and adaption to challenges and change.  Who knows what the driverless car will be like in a hundred years? Past experience may guide our expectations. Pedestrians had to get used to walking where horses and more recently driven cars tread. Now the challenge is getting used to driverless vehicles. As with Sleepy Hollow, dealing with fear is key. Trust needs to be built. Errors need to be understood. The public needs to be educated on how to use and interact with this technology safely, just like we needed to learn how to operate stoves. What do you do when the headless horseman races towards you? How do you interact and make sure that you are being recognized?    

SofTrek has a solution that keeps a head on the horseman by keeping the driver’s “eyes on the road hands on the wheel”. To do this, SofTrek adds tactile features to computer buttons so that they can be located without the need to look away from a display. If these buttons are on a steering wheel and matched with the format of projected menus, the driver does not need to look down to locate a desired button or away from the road to reach for a dashboard or cell phone screen. Safety is maintained by enabling a sudden attention switch to the road by what is sensed by the driver and the vehicle’s computer.

By combining different solutions, there are happy trails to Sleepy Hollow. Men and women, their horses, and little children too, depend on them.  

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