Driver Less Thoughts On An ISP Toll Road

I have waited until the final few hours to write this paper. It has almost been 2 weeks since we last came back from Philadelphia. It was a windy day, I remember it strongest when we walked amongst the buildings to get Pizza, strong enough for us to uniformly want to eat inside. We all sat at a long table, joked about the decor, caught up with each other and our phones. I felt really close to everyone then, in a way I rarely or ever have felt with any class before. That was the last time we saw all of each other. Half the class didn’t even show up for crit. I don’t know why.

There was one piece that stood out to me. The only piece that requires standing, else if you want to strain your neck upwards. Under that dome I saw the returned reflections of laser beams emanating from my arched back. My eyes through glass skin fitted to aluminum panels. Worn rubber for hands and a curiosity only echoed by my peers wandering with me. Everything was moving relative to me, and only I was moving, I tracked everything like a hawk, drawing a square on it identifying it marking it. 

I wondered where they went, who it was that even left me, the city of Seoul punctuated only by a muffled whirring up and down. “Driver Less Vision” captivated me, I think I watched it three times. It felt like a natural conclusion to so much of what I learned. I remember so many years ago tinkering with drones, soldering cheap ultrasonic sensors trying to give the buzzing machine a sense of vision, space, beyond the Gopro velcroed into its mount.

That internship where I saw my first Lidar almost 7 years ago, a three dimensional version of that toy with all the loose pins that you can push with your hand to make an impression, your hand’s shape now composed of shiny metal bits in a 50×50 grid. When I saw that car that said Google on it that didn’t have the google maps mast, something stranger like 4 horns spinning driving along the beachfront in Mission Bay. I followed all the news, the driverless future, I knew it was coming more than anyone else, but I also knew how much farther out it still would be, the challenges immense.

But I found myself in philadelphia being the very thing I watched for so long. My eyes darting around, all things were visible in all ways, I felt empowered yet simply going forward was difficult. When you see in 360 degrees moving is like walking through an oncoming wave crash in the face, sliding around your body, the turbulent flow coming off fills in the low pressure space behind you pushing you forward too. The car I was pondered often about its owner’s whereabouts, it could talk to other cars but could not connect beyond telecommunication. It didn’t have warm flesh to protect, hands to caress it. These seem to be both things that one who drives and one who rides share.

It could move in a seemingly endless space, log countless things, it moved through it but only on designated pathways. We are all driverless cars lost in an empty Seoul. Our communication our interaction are restricted rigidly to the applications we use, sites we have accounts in. There are constraints online. I know it is easy to dismiss what I am saying, as not novel or new, “yeah we live in a society where people live more in the virtual life than in the real one”, “what ever happened to real life?”. These statements delivered with other drivel from boomer’s mouths, as if it is some grand observation.

But I am not talking to that. I am talking to the roads we can move throughout. Do we really have the ability to express ourselves, be free, take full control of the virtual space? Surely you can create animations worlds, or games or edit footage. Put up a website that counts tweets, publish fake porn of the B list celebrity AI masked onto a pornstar. But these are all in engines, game engines, 3d software, in the DM tab of twitter. The only ones with the ability to really move through the space are hackers, malicious programmers. They represent such a miniscule portion of those online it isnt worth focusing on.

Like the Driverless car we are keenly aware of our virtual surroundings. Like the driverless car we see and log events, images, pictures, categorize, react, respond, avoid. 100 sensors and our arms can only turn some wheels 40 degrees each way. I have been thinking about this in quarantine. The internet isn’t limitless, the Autonomous car can drive anywhere it wants to go, avoid danger, find places to charge or fuel up. Yet it can not change the landscape more than skid marks and knocking down tall grass or breaking twigs under itself. 

We are all stuck together now, on the same road. Everything and nothing before us, a strange phenomenon going on outdoors. We are so keenly aware yet so limited to act.

Driver Less Vision by Urtzi Grau, Guillermo Fernandez-Abascal, Daniel Perlin, Max Lauter