Why Autonomous Cars Won’t Work in the US.

Autonomous car being tested in Silicon Valley parking lot (Michael Halberstadt)
Autonomous car being tested in Silicon Valley parking lot (Michael Halberstadt)

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!)

Google Self Driving Car (Michael Halberstadt)
Google Self Driving Car (Michael Halberstadt)

Thing is, these cars can’t really work at present, at least in the US.

Google Self Driving Car, Mountain View, Silicon Valley (Michael Halberstadt)
Google Self Driving Car, Mountain View, Silicon Valley (Michael Halberstadt)

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.

Google Mountain View (Michael Halberstadt)
Google Mountain View (Michael Halberstadt)

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.

Self Driving Car (Michael Halberstadt)
Self Driving Car (Michael Halberstadt)

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.

Google Mountain View (Michael Halberstadt)
Google Mountain View (Michael Halberstadt)

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.

Autonomous car being tested in Silicon Valley parking lot (Michael Halberstadt)
Autonomous car being tested in Silicon Valley parking lot (Michael Halberstadt)

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.

Autonomous car being tested in Silicon Valley parking lot (Michael Halberstadt)
Autonomous car being tested in Silicon Valley parking lot (Michael Halberstadt)

 

Oakland: A Few Stock Photos of Tribune Tower

Tribune Tower, Oakland, CA (Michael Halberstadt)
Tribune Tower, Oakland, CA (Michael Halberstadt)

Oakland has been on my radar for a while. The Dot-Com craziness has finally found its way east. Recently news outlets have been going gaga over the previously overlooked Bay Area city, the New York Times even dubbed it Brooklyn by the Bay.

Tribune Tower, Oakland, CA (Michael Halberstadt)
Tribune Tower, Oakland, CA (Michael Halberstadt)

As I recall, Gertrude Stein famously said about Oakland: There is no there there. In researching my present subject, the Tribune Tower in the center of Oakland, I read that they actually put a “There” sign on the tower to make light of Stein’s comments.

In any case, I’d wanted to photograph the tower with some dramatic angles and clouds for a while. In photographing in much of Oakland I find myself somewhat torn between the beauty that is Oakland’s urban core and the chaos and lawlessness it’s known for. Tribune Tower has also been in the news alot lately, I think there’s some sort of bankruptcy issues with the (former) owner.

Tribune Tower, Oakland, CA (Michael Halberstadt)
Tribune Tower, Oakland, CA (Michael Halberstadt)

I had a reasonably good experience in that regard during this shoot. My perch was the spot on Broadway right next to the 12th Street Bart entrance. With my Sony A7r on a tripod I got a few looks: some friendly, some suspicious. I got a few really dumb comments like the usual, “What, are you some kind of terrorist or something?” “Yes”, I replied, “I’m going to blow up that building with this magical camera” hoping in vein the idiot who made the comment might notice how dumb his question was.

I did see my fair share of bad behavior while doing my thing. There was a group of about a dozen people across the street congregating in front of the Burger King for nearly the entire time talking very loudly- occasionally shouting to other people (in a friendly manner) across various street corners. The kid in the bunch was bouncing his basket ball off the transom windows of the historic building.

Tribune Tower, Oakland, CA (Michael Halberstadt)
Tribune Tower, Oakland, CA (Michael Halberstadt)

In that entire couple hours I think I saw one police cruiser despite the fact that the main police HQ is a very short distance down Broadway, the street I was on. At one point there was a guy on a dirt bike, with no license plate. He started doing wheelies in the center of the intersection, then went off the wrong way on a one way street, only to reappear on the sidewalk. Even after dark, he was riding around in violation of most of the vehicle code and with no lights in front or back (not just not on, but there was no light on the bike, period.)

Tribune Tower, Oakland, CA (Michael Halberstadt)
Tribune Tower, Oakland, CA (Michael Halberstadt)

But despite all the complete lack of first world order, I managed to photograph without being hurt or seriously threatened. And I got a few good shots too.

Many of the photos I did employed one of my fun tricks: long daylight exposures. The trick is that I put a really dark grey filter in front of the lens, allowing exposures up to about 30 seconds during the daytime. The end result is that stationary objects, like in this case the Tribune Building tower remain stationary (of course) but the clouds move and leave streaky patterns. This is hit or miss- you knever know for sure what’s going to happen in the next half minute or so.

Another thing I’ve been trying to do is frame for book covers. I thought of this as a potential book cover project. For a complete book jacket, the subject has to be on the far right and have room on the left for a spine and the back. Seems at some point somebody’s going to be writing another book on Oakland and need a cover.

But you be the judge. I think some of these came out quite well. What do you think?