driver-less · Law · Programming · Vehicle Design

From Passenger to Cargo


I saw the above bumper sticker on a car recently.  It’s a well known fact that many “middle America” moms (and increasingly, dads) spend an enormous amount of time taxiing kids around to various practices, games, meets, and tournaments.  It may be possible in the future to have adults load a child on one end of a trip, and unload them on the other.  On one end the adult would be a coach, booster or trusted parent.  On the other it could be the child’s own parent.

Now, before you get too concerned, realize we don’t have to be talking about a 4 year old aspiring ballerina.  We could be talking about at 16 year old lineman who does not yet have the experience to be allowed to drive alone.  Or it could be a 17 year old who isn’t trustworthy with the keys on their own.  In some instances, it may be appropriate to so transport a younger child.

What are the concerns that an automated car must overcome in order to act not only as an autonomous car, but also as a guardian of sorts?

First and foremost, the car must be able to operate with equal or more safety than existing drivers.  I don’t think this is difficult to imagine, and it must be attained.

Secondly, navigation must be very close to perfect.  While it might not be the end of the world if your linebacker cousin has to call home because the car went a little “off,” it will be absolutely unacceptable if an automated car gets lost carrying around a 12 year old girl.

Third, will be the requirement that the vehicle offer some level of touching base with the parents.  The obvious method would be that the car might text the parent(s) when it is sent off.  Perhaps other status updates would be sent periodically until final arrival.  Many parents would insist on additional monitoring.  It would be fairly inexpensive to monitor the vehicle using existing cell-based technology.  For example, a cell phone could be hard linked to provide monitoring like this.

The final requirement will be some sort of cargo identification.  If 20 cars show up to pick up 20 soccer (football) players, it will be important to make sure the right kid (and only the right kid) gets into the car.  It would be somewhat uncomfortable for Johnny’s parents if Jane got out of the car with him without anyone’s permission for her to be along for the ride.  A thumb-print reader could easily ID who was in the car.  There would need to be some technology to make sure there were no “hangers on” – but it could be done fairly easily if there were responsible adults on the loading end.  If the child is being sent to practice, the same thumb print may be usable for unlocking purposes by a responsible adult.  There will need to be some development around how to make a given adult an appropriate authority, and how to limit that authority to practice.  You don’t want a soccer coach unlocking a car door just anytime, especially with nefarious motives.

Are there any I’m missing?  Leave a comment!





2 thoughts on “From Passenger to Cargo

  1. Ensuring that the right number of children are in the car should be fairly straightforward. Cameras are currently equipped to identify faces. As long as the stowaway doesn’t purposefully cover her face, the car will know she’s there. Even without mischievous tweens, there is the issue of the wrong kid getting in the car. I remember all cars looking the same, and it was only by identifying mom in the driver’s seat that I found the right one. The car will need to be able to uniquely identify itself so that it can claim the correct child.


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