In Search of the Self Driving Minivan

Google Self Driving Car (M. Halberstadt / SiliconValleyStock.com)
Google Self Driving Car (M. Halberstadt / SiliconValleyStock.com)

Just to clear things up first, no you will not see any photos on this post of the new rumored Chrysler-Fiat Pacifica Self Driving minivan. It is in the works as I understand it, and have seen some photos online in a Google parking garage. But eventually, they will have to take this thing out for testing, and I’ll be there ASAP snapping away.

Google Self Driving Car (M. Halberstadt / SiliconValleyStock.com)
Google Self Driving Car (M. Halberstadt / SiliconValleyStock.com)

However, I did get to sit on a bench on a pleasant fall day and snap some nice photos of other Google autonomous cars passing by. I felt kinda like a fisherman might feel fishing out of a stocked pond.

Google Self Driving Car (M. Halberstadt / SiliconValleyStock.com)
Google Self Driving Car (M. Halberstadt / SiliconValleyStock.com)

At one point (while I was on the phone to my friend and fellow photographer Christian 1*) I heard the electric car whirring sound on my left. I excused myself from the phone call, stood up and saw two of those cute 2 seat prototype autonomous cars on my left, then looked to the right and saw another one! It was like I was being surrounded.

Google Self Driving Car (M. Halberstadt / SiliconValleyStock.com)
Google Self Driving Car (M. Halberstadt / SiliconValleyStock.com)

Unfortunately for my stock photo luck, there was another interesting scene – that could have been an even better contrast had there been a self driving car there as well. A homeless guy (?) came riding down the slight hill next to the Google X building carrying a bunch of huge bags full of recycling.

I’ll head down soon and see if I can find this rumored vehicle in the wild.

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)

 

Humor and Copyright Infringement

Screenshot supplychain blurred

Following up with an infringement case (image of mine above was stolen), my lawyer asked me if I had authorized another website to use that same photo. Nope, I have yet to license this photo to anybody though I’ve found it used on a couple dozen websites. A few minutes later he sent me an e-mail saying the photo was “hotlinked” allowing the infringer to display my image on his site by simply redirecting the image from my site without even copying it. Turns out under present copyright law, that’s not illegal.

My lawyer did have some good advice. Why not replace the image, used on a blog with something creative? I started by trying to find a vintage photo (well out of copyright) of somebody’s behind and overlaying the text “don’t be an ass and steal my photo.” However in the short time I looked you can imagine what a search for ass of the internet turned up. I also briefly toyed with the idea of putting a notice like “image of the Prophet Mohammed has been removed from this site.” However as irked as I am by this image theft, I don’t want anybody killed.

Screenshot Do Not Steal

So I started with something simple. I took the original image and overlayed the text “do not steal”.  Keep in mind that any change I make to the photo they are “stealing” instantly appears on their page. A few days later I had time to really play around. I found that the site is based in Nigeria, so why not have a little fun with that? So I scaled back the main image and overlayed the text “Nigerian Football Sucks!” over top.

Screenshot Nigerian Football

Not wanting to steal anybody else’s images, I thought of what I had in my library that might work to further embarrass this infringer. I took an old photo I took in Jena, Germany of a dingy back street with a bunch of Trabants and overlayed the text “Google’s Latest Self Driving Cars.”

Screenshot Wearobo Trabant

For the last few days, we’ve been dog sitting a lovely dog named Lulu for some friends. Hmmmm…. That gives me the opportunity for a nice closeup of a poop photo I can place into their website. So I got a nice doggie poo closeup and put the infringer’s domain atop in big red lettering.

Screenshot poop

So what’s next? Submit your ideas…..until they get wise to what I’m up to I plan to have a little more fun!