As I was driving around the Streets of Silicon Valley- I stumbled upon yet another in the many contenders for self driving cars. This is a Chinese company with a presence in Cupertino called Roadstar.ai.
I was just minding my own business, or actually just looking for a spot near my house to do some video testing. Stopping at a park on the old Naval Air Station (NAS) I noticed a car out on the old runway.
Normally, there should be no cars out there. This time however I spotted a Tesla stopped conspicuously on the tarmac.
Turns out they were testing something. What exactly I’m not sure. There were two extra sets of tires at the ready. Closer inspection of my photos (taken at quite a long distance with a super-telephoto lens) show a red wire coming from the engine compartment to the passenger side (held on by a bit of black tape- somewhat third world style for such a fancy bit of tech!
Discussion abounds about the future of driverless cars. Uber is testing self-driving Volvos in Pittsburg, Google has had a program going on for quite some time in Silicon Valley. Rumors of Apple testing a vehicle at Gomentum have abounded for some time (there’s got to be an Apple joke in there, like they couldn’t get it to work because the power plugs kept changing!)
Thing is, these cars can’t really work at present, at least in the US.
Let me elaborate. The technology is amazing, and full of promise. And self driving cars could work with a human to step in. But the United States is a special case as a first world country. We have some pretty strict laws on the books as you’d expect of an advanced democracy. But we don’t enforce lots of those laws, as you would expect from a developing country.
Self driving car manufacturers can not take our chaotic streets in to account. The law as written in the vehicle code says that to proceed a vehicle must wait for the intersection to be clear of pedestrians. Yet anybody who’s been on a busy big city street in the US knows the whole town would shut down if all the laws were actually obeyed. When I drive in San Francisco, say on Market Street wanting to make a right turn on one of the busier intersections, there are literally hours a day where it would not be legally possible.
Some percentage of pedestrians wait for their light to turn green, but many do not, and the intersection at some times of day simply is never completely clear. Cars and trucks routinely double park, making drivers cross over double yellow lines against the law. Posted speed limits are also meant as a legal maximum, yet are treated as a minimum by most drivers.
Crime in the US is also another issue making the use of a truly autonomous car dangerous in many parts of the US. Just imagine that cute little google car, with the plastic windows driving in a bad part of any big city in America. Remember, this car has to obey the law, and the rest of the world does not. And they’re talking about not even having a steering wheel for a manual override. So two people could easily completely stop a true autonomous vehicle, simply by stepping in front and behind it. This could be done just to be a jerk because they think it’s funny- it could be used to intimidate the driver occupant, or presumably a third thug could remove the driver occupant(s) from the vehicle with little difficulty rob, plunder or do whatever criminals do.
While I can see a fully autonomous vehicle actually working in Japan, Korea, certain parts of northern Europe and a few other spots, I can’t imagine a vehicle sans-steering wheel succeeding here. Like so many other brilliant inventions that started here (think of the Bullet Trains, or fast internet for example) our culture of chaos is great at creating ideas- then letting other cultures apply those ideas to daily life.
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Why would anybody photograph a parking lot? I was struggling for an answer to tell anybody if I was asked while conspicuously documenting an empty parking lot in Santa Clara.
Turns out the answer is one of those Silicon Valley stories, a symbol of the tumultuous business cycle of the tech world. This particular lot is for the moment owned by Yahoo. Yahoo is ancient in Internet years- old enough to vote in human years is equal to centenarian for a search engine. And like a centenarian, the end is almost certainly near.
In researching, I found that Yahoo had purchased the 48.6 acre lot in 2006 back when they were still making money and planned to expand on the site. They demolished the existing properties, and not having built up the site it now serves as a parking lot for the new nearby Levi’s Stadium.
As Yahoo crumbles, rumor has it that the lot is going up for sale. The lot was originally purchased for $106 million I can only imagine how much more it’s worth a decade later.
Guess the short answer is it’s newsworthy.
P.s. the land is bound by: Old Ironsides Drive, Tasman Drive, Patrick Henry Drive, Old Glory in Santa Clara California
I still have to pinch myself. Did this really happen? Right before the official opening of the new Eastern Span of the Oakland – San Francisco Bay Bridge a friend let me in with his special access.
We drove around on an almost empty bridge free of all but construction and CHP traffic. We stopped pretty much wherever we wanted. Nights we could even set up our tripods right in the middle lane of the bridge and make long exposures.
My friends at Oakland Magazine previously got me press access onto the Bay Bridge on a wet and windy night to document the LED art installation. We could setup our tripods for this access, which was nice. But since there was still auto traffic, the bridge shook and long exposures were fruitless.
I could have kept shooting there for weeks if they let us. These are the views photographers like me find so beautifully frustrating: so beautiful, yet unattainable. It’s what we see stuck in traffic and think if only I could just park my car and pull out my camera.
My parting shot was a long exposure disturbed by a CHP call to “leave now” minutes before the official opening.