Irish Roads Test Technology, Marriage

My oldest child is off to college this year, so before she left the nest we decided to take that family vacation to Europe we have been talking about for years. My wife wasn’t too keen on flying all the way across the pond (“Can’t we just drive to Canada?”), but even she eventually succumbed to the lure of the Emerald Isle and the constant nagging of my children.

Things could have begun better. Our flight from Cleveland to New York was delayed an hour. “Not to worry, we have a four-hour layover in JFK anyway, so there’s plenty of time,” I assured them. Upon arrival in New York, we learned our flight to Dublin was going to be delayed by four hours. My platitude about embracing the journey, not the destination was met with general disdain, bordering on outright hostility from my wife.

My attempts to sleep in unpadded chairs at the airport and cramped quarters on the plane were not successful, so, after being awake for more than 24 hours, I climbed into our rental car at the Dublin airport. Quickly realizing I was in the passenger seat, I climbed back out and got in the right side behind the wheel. “Oh God,” my wife said. “Just kidding,” I said to reassure her. I’d never driven from the right (wrong) side of a car or on the left side of the road, so surely she would cut me some slack. “Oh God,” she said again, getting into the passenger seat. “Do they have Uber here?”

Who needs Uber when you have Google Maps? I punched in the hotel’s address on my phone, quickly previewed the route and away we went—I was trying to exude confidence to my anxious wife, she was searching her purse for her Rosary beads, and my children (who had slept in the airport and on the plane) were chatting away happily in the back seat. I didn’t think she needed to know about all the roundabouts coming up, so I left them as a surprise. Travel is about the joy of discovery and all that.

A Failure to Communicate

Thirty minutes later we arrived safely at the hotel. My wife didn’t kiss the ground, but it wouldn’t have surprised me. I had only drifted to the wrong side of the road once on a road so narrow you couldn’t really say it had a right and left side anyway. The driver of the car coming around the corner didn’t even honk his horn when he saw me coming right at him. I got the feeling people around the airport were used to sharing the roads with tourists. Still, as the week went on and we racked up miles seeing many of the beautiful sights of Ireland, I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before a car could tell me a tour bus was about to take a wide turn into my lane around an S-curve or a garbage truck would be stopped in front of me around the next bend.

There was no setting in Google Maps to avoid narrow, twisty roads—and we wouldn’t have been able to see much of the country if we had tried to avoid them—but Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC) or cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technologies like those explained in our cover story (see page 16) may have gone a long way in reassuring my wife that we would make it there and back again. As the story notes, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications still have a number of challenges to overcome, especially when it comes to standardization.

One Irishman I spoke to wished the country would switch to right-sided driving, assuming that switching to what the majority of the world does would lower costs and provide more car-buying choices. If the world can’t agree on which side of the road to use, can we agree on a V2V communications standard? Thanks to input from global manufacturers, I think we can. But I think there’s an even bigger challenge to V2V than that.

Humans in the Loop

Our rental car was fancier than what we drive at home. We soon found out it had some safety smarts we weren’t used to. While driving from Dublin to Cork, I almost took the wrong exit and then corrected. The car apparently thought I was getting too tired to drive and displayed a steaming cup of coffee icon on the dash, accompanied by an audible “ding” to make sure I was awake. I appreciated, but ignored, its advice.

Once V2V technologies get past standardization, security and compliance hurdles, they will still need to be designed in such a way to help overcome human nature. Some people are smart enough to take advice from sensor-laden machines, others are too stubborn. My wife, for instance, suggested we pull over if I was tired when the car suggested I take a break. Would she be more comfortable in a self-driving car? Maybe, but I think we still have a long way to go before she would agree to an autonomous driving tour of Ireland.