Friday, February 21, 2020

Wanderers Presentation: Auto Automation

Our small group, a side-effect of the ISEPP Lecture Series, gathered to learn as much as we could, in a short Thursday morning, from Gordon Hoffman.  He has followed the autonomous vehicle story for many years, enjoying the contests, and studying in his lab.  Gordon is a paradigm autodidact, nowadays tackling issues around higher frequency power grids and communications speeds (4G, 5G...).

I arrived a few minutes late, and Gordon graciously caught me up, as we were but one or two slides into it.  Daimler featured prominently, as one of the companies seriously exploring truck automation and optimization possibilities.

Daimler Trucks also a boasts a Leed certified North American headquarters on Swan Island, at the industrial center of the Port of Portland, close to the action at a ship to rail and truck interface.  Port of Vancouver is nearby to the north, along the deeper Columbia, with its Pacific Ocean access.  Seattle's is the nearest behemoth port along the Pacific.

Gordon painted an appealing picture of electrified fleet vehicles quietly, efficiently, autonomously plying the road ways, periodically checking themselves in for cleaning and maintenance.

Street side parking would be mostly a thing of the past, as would be car dealerships, and vast central business district parking garages. People could enjoy 24/7 driverless cab service, stepping nimbly from vehicle to vehicle, everything cybernetic and programmable.  The energy savings alone would be enormous.

Maybe they would still rent old fashioned muscle cars for occasional joy riding.  People still ride horses recreationally, after all.

Gordon also shares my interest in the spread of high voltage DC lines and the ongoing integration of electrical networks.  Growth in Asia has been impressive whereas North American engineers encounter endless red tape when it comes to any so-called "national energy policy".

So interested is Gordon in the driverless truck convoy idea, that he inquired about doing military service as a guinea pig himself.

I have also made guinea pig noises about wanting some truck tours, in the context of my Trucker Exchange program: trucking-related tours of duty for academic credit, like a peace corps, with built in opportunities for citizen diplomacy (like at truck stops especially).  I've shared some of these reveries in my YouTube channel over the years, in these blogs, and on Medium.

As Gordon pointed out in his concluding slide, New York City went from being knee deep in horse manure, with a stench people today would consider unbearable, to a more pristine gas mixture, in under two decades, thanks to affordable motorcars with internal combustion engines.

The horses went into retirement.

Could today's emissions infused-collective breathing soup be purified even further?

Could the human pilot of a city automobile be going the way of the elevator man?

Between today's vehicles and full autonomy, comes a lot of pilot testing.  Whatever the long term future, the morphing of our driving experience is already changing full tilt, with GPS, backup cameras, dashboard apps, many new sensors.

I chirped up about Disney's EPCOT (the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow), not the theme park that was actually built by his brother, and part of the original plan (for greater DisneyWorld), but the planned community, with built-in turnover.  I've been "infected" with that vision myself, though it's not just one such Prototypes City that I'm hoping to still see.

Bucky's gargantuan stadium-shaped Old Man River City (picture tiered bleachers scaled to garden apartments) was about prototyping, and is but one example.  However mega-projects went out of style in many areas, but for military endeavors in some cases.  Within the context of experimental townships and campuses, programmable transportation solutions could be tested and fine tuned.

Gordon has appeared in my blogs before, as one of the Wanderers, and as an early board member and instructor for Saturday Academy, an experimental school that brings together younger students (pre-college, usually) and career professionals.

I've learned a lot from my association with this academy over the years, from field testing some of my curriculum ideas around computer science and geometry.  For example, I got to work with the Hillsboro Police Department, West Precinct, where Saturday Academy was hired to share free, open source computing with underprivileged immigrant kids, or with whoever signed up for the program.

In addition to diving back into electrical engineering and smart grid devices, Gordon is looking into Python (the computer language) and its data science ecosystem (such as Jupyter Notebooks).  Artificial Intelligence (AI) plays a role in the equations, as our technology rolls forward...  or backward as the case may be.

Real intelligence is still needed, to help steer the zeitgeist in a human-friendly direction.