Who needs drivers?
In a previous column, I complained that, in spite of all our technological advances, I still do not have a flying car. Well, cars still aren’t flying, but they may be getting closer to driving themselves.
The U.S. Department of Defense is sponsoring the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Urban Challenge, a race entirely run by computer-controlled cars. Automated car races held in the past ran in open environments, such as deserts. Now the challenge will expand racing to include urban settings.
In a desert, a car is mainly concerned with identifying obstacles and driving around them. The Urban Challenge is the first one to require the cars to simulate an urban driving environment. The cars will have to merge in traffic, change lanes and decide right-of-way.
The cars use an array of sensors to accumulate information about their surroundings. Many groups are placing laser sensors on each side to provide a 360 degree view of objects surrounding the car. The on-board computers use sophisticated artificial intelligence programs to identify obstacles and learn from mistakes.
The winner of this year’s race will receive two million dollars from DARPA. According to a document on the DARPA
Web site (www.darpa.mil), the agency was founded in 1958 in response to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik, becoming the first nation to put an object into orbit. DARPA develops new technologies for military use. They
often do this by sponsoring competitions, like the Urban Challenge, which encourage civilian groups to work on cutting-edge technology.
You’ve been in this situation before: there’s reading to be done and a paper to be written, but you just can’t conjur up the effort to work on them. So, you check your email for the tenth time in an hour.
It’s a familiar situation, but it can be a serious problem for some. One story online mentions a businessman who lost a deal when a potential partner was put off by the man’s constant email checking during a round of golf.
In response to the growing issue, Marsha Egan, an “executive coach,” has developed a 12-step program for email addicts. According to her Web site, her goal as a coach is to “inspire individuals and organizations to maximize their potential.”
Most of the steps are rather mundane, such as recommending that you respond quickly to easily solvable problems and leave long-term projects for later. That’s common sense. Others are a little more substantial, suggesting that email addicts create a filing system or put emails into easily-sorted categories for better organization.
While most people’s email habits may not be a full-blown addiction, it can be a time waster. Now that Lent has begun, I am thinking of ways to live a simpler life. Maybe occasionally being away from email’s constant barrage of messages could be a good way to simplify things. It certainly couldn’t hurt to cut back – at least a little.
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