UPS Flight 6 near Dubai and autonomous cars

You may have seen the news recently about this flight which didn’t land successfully. Most of the causes have been identified. The problem started with a thermal runaway lithium battery fire. You might recall the lithium battery problem used in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

What eventually happened is smoke filled the cabin and caused the pilot to not be able to see outside the window. That’s got to be a completely disoriented feeling when the thousands of flight hours before the pilot had a clear view of his instruments. Perhaps they have training for this situation but in this flight there was a large task load put upon one person in an emergency.

Many of you know that there’s an autopilot in airplanes and many of these planes can take-off and land themselves. Pilots are very familiar with letting a plane fly itself. There’s a lot of news recently of cars that can drive themselves and it sounds like one day we might be riding in those. I don’t know what it’s like to be sitting in a cockpit or a car and let the machine do the critical driving but I wonder how the machine will work in an emergency. Perhaps UPS flight 6 is an extreme example of how things can easily surpass our knowledge of what’s happening and if our vision is taken away we are left either to the comfort or uncomfortable feeling that the machine can handle the situation.

I am all for trying autonomous cars when they become available but I’m guessing there’s going to be a lot of interesting sensations when I first let a car do the driving. I just hope there will be all kinds of thought that go into those potential situations where there’s no way I could handle something like driving in bad fog or other severe conditions. Google‘s driverless car has over 300,000 miles of accident free driving. There have been a few incidents but they haven’t been blamed on their system. One involved a rear-end accident.

What we’re going to have to do is trust the machine and not our eyes and I know that’s hard to do even when someone else is driving. As a passenger, you might see and want to react but you have to let the driver make that decision. Can we leave it up to a computer to make all those decisions? I wouldn’t let Windows or my iphone do it for me. I suppose we’ll need a lot of selling first before we trust a car to drive us to work. A plane doesn’t have to dodge the kinds of obstacles we see on the road every day.


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