Before it even had a chance to take off, the era of autonomous cars and autonomous robots may have come to a crashing halt in an appropriate fashion … with an autonomous car crashing into an autonomous robot outside a future technology trade show in the most computerized city in the world – Las Vegas, Nevada. Has the bet on autonomous devices come up snake-eyes?
“There was nobody there, no men, no cars. I switched this Tesla into a self-driving mode and it started to move. And wow! A robot on the track! I thought the flivver would come round, but it bumped straightly into the it! I am so sorry, the robot looks cute. And my sincere apologies to the engineers.”
George Caldera was the person in the Tesla Model S traveling on Paradise (ironic) Road who apparently went from ‘driver’ to ‘passenger’ with a flip of a switch, which means he’s at least an accessory to the crime but will surely blame it on the company and Elon Musk. However, red flags and red herrings pop up immediately in this story, starting with the use of the word “flivver.” A what? “Flivver” was a nickname in the early 20th century for the Ford Model T and for early cars in general, but diehard Aldous Huxley fans will also recognize it as the name given to vehicles in Brave New World, which portray Henry Ford as a messiah. But who uses such an expression in 2019 … unless there’s something more to this story.
“Of course we are vexed. We brought this robot here from Philadelphia to participate at CES. Now it neither can participate in the event or be recovered. We will conduct an internal investigation and find out why the robot went to the roadway.”
The robot belonged to Promobot, a company which brought them to Las Vegas to be used as information-giving-and-gathering service robots at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, currently going on in 11 venues in the city … hence the need for autonomous cars to ferry attendees around. Oleg Kivokurtsev, Promobot’s Development Director, had no explanation for why the robot rolled into the road … or why it was even on the sidewalk at the time. Nor did the Las Vegas police, who are also investigating the accident despite there being no humans involved. Who gets the ticket? Who gets the car out of the pound?
A bigger question and redder red flag is why the video of the incident seemed to be perfectly aimed and in focus, despite the fact that there was really nothing to see on this deserted street. A common YouTube comment was that this was a promotional setup. If it was, it didn’t really help either party. The robot was said to have been damaged beyond repair – the car knocked it over and destroyed parts of its body, head, arm mechanisms and movement platform. The Tesla didn’t stop at the scene but kept going – a clear case of hit-and-run and not the kind of publicity Tesla wants these days with its stock plummeting.
Sharing a human-driven Uber flivver with a couple of drunk techies suddenly doesn’t sound so bad anymore.