I don't trust robocars and you can't make me. This was true before a self-driving Uber hit and killed a woman as she crossed the street last year, and has only become truer since. Nevertheless, tech companies continue to push their driverless chaos agent agenda. New York City will not be exempt. Apparently, we're getting self-driving vehicles as soon as this year.
The Verge reports that a Boston-based start-up called Optimus Ride plans to launch an "autonomous shuttle service" in the Brooklyn Navy Yard within the next few months. They'll also be sending some of these Neighborhood Electric Vehicles to Paradise Valley Estates, a retirement community in Fairfield, California, so at least we're not alone. But hey, maybe this news excites some of you!
In an email to Gothamist, an Optimus Ride representative said the company would start with four vehicles, with the eventual goal of adding more to the fleet. Each will hold "either four or six" passengers, and rides will be free to the approximately 8,500 Navy Yard workers (by the Verge's count) and to the eventual ferry passengers who disembark there. Optimus Ride envisions this as a convenient link to Flushing Avenue and existing public transportation. From the company's perspective, the Navy Yard is attractive both because it's geofenced (and regular fenced) and because "Brooklyn residents tend to be open to new tech."
I suppose I am grateful that the cars will only travel 25 mph, and that they'll be confined to the Navy Yard rather than unleashed in the streets. Really, though, this feels like a baby step and I'm not ready to walk just yet. See, again, the autonomous Uber that mowed down a pedestrian.
In October 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that Manhattan would welcome autonomous vehicles, from GM and Cruise Automation, in early 2018. He touted their "potential to save time and save lives," although nothing ever came of the plan.
At the time, though, Cornell computer science professor Bart Selman told Gothamist that NYC, with all its congestion and constant surprise traffic interruptions, actually offered preternaturally fertile testing ground for driverless cars. Rolling along at relatively slow speeds, "the cars will be able to react much faster than people," Selman said. "The vision system and the sensor systems, they are becoming almost superhuman, they can see around the car most of the time." That people will invariably walk out in front of these robot zoomers will only sharpen their reflexes, he added: "I call it bullying of the self-driving cars."
And yeah okay, human drivers make mistakes too, some of which prove fatal. And sure, this Endgadget reporter rode an autonomous bus in Times Square and had a perfectly boring time. Maybe it will all be okay! Maybe I will have to ride in one of these Optimus robots to find out.