Rural Areas and AI Autonomous Cars

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AI self-driving cars will need to be able to drive in rural areas with their winding, curved road and sometimes unexpected obstructions. (GETTY IMAGES)

By Lance Eliot, the AI Trends Insider

The countryside can be a breathtaking relief from the confines of the big city and the suburbs.

In the United States, any geographical area that is not considered within an urban area is generally considered the countryside, often referred to simply as a rural area.

Typically, a rural area in the United States is sparsely populated. The population density is relatively low and the landscape is rather large. You can often drive across a rural area for miles upon miles and see nothing other than rolling hills, majestic mountains, open flat lands, and oftentimes large-scale farms.

Whenever I drive from the bustling and freeway-clogged environ of Southern California up to the Silicon Valley area in Northern California, it is a splendor to witness the Central California portion of the state.  The inland and non-coastal route consists of around 450 miles that provides more than half of the vegetables, nuts, and fruits that are grown in the United States.

Many tourists are surprised to discover that California has an agricultural belt all of its own.

If you come to do touristy kinds of activities, you’d likely go to see Hollywood and Disneyland in Southern California, and perhaps go up to San Francisco to see the Golden Gate Bridge and ride the famous trolleys, but otherwise would not consider spending much time in the central rural area unless you had keen interest in farms and ranches.

Next time that you find yourself munching on almonds, apricots, tomatoes, grapes, asparagus, and other such delicious items, please make sure to thank California since the odds are high that those items were grown in our central inland areas. Driving on the main route from Los Angeles to San Francisco, consisting of either highway 5 or the CA 99, you can pretty much expect to see farms that appear to stretch to the horizon. When it is growing season, there are zillions of rows of crops being grown. When the crops have been harvested, it becomes an endless dirt patch that awaits being planted for the next iteration of the agricultural cycle.

Rural Areas And Driving Time Aspects

I remember one time that I opted to visit one of the farms while making my way on Interstate 5. It was going to be an interesting visit since I hadn’t been on a working farm for many ages (when my children were young, I often took them to visit a farm, so they could see what goes on in the rural areas and learn how our food is grown). For this visit, I had prearranged to meet with a farmer to discuss some of the advances taking place in AgriTech, which is the term used to refer to the advent of high-tech being infused into agriculture.

Side note, there’s ample opportunity to combine AI with AgriTech and doing so is considered a next wave of high-tech for the agricultural realm. For those of you looking for fertile ground to use AI, consider agriculture.

I admit that I was expecting to see a farmhouse that did not have indoor plumbing, barely had electricity, and the work on the farm was being done by horse and plows.

I subsequently realized that I’d been to too many old-time farms that are more Disneyland-like than the real thing.

When I got to the farm on this more recent trip, I was impressed at the high-tech aspects involved in contemporary farming. They had a satellite dish to make sure they could keep tabs on the prices of commodities and were quite sophisticated in their crop management and forecasting. Much of the farming equipment was high-tech equipped and it was apparent that I needed to update my mental model about what happens on a farm.

It was also fascinating to realize that when the families that lived in these rural areas often drove to the nearest town to get supplies or get their children to school, they lamented that it took maybe thirty to forty-five minutes each way to do so.

I say this is fascinating because my daily commute for work in traffic frenzied Los Angeles is more than an hour each way, and yet the distance I travel is a fraction of the distance they needed to go.

If they were complaining about a 30-minute to 45-minute drive, it made me shrug and stifle a mild laugh, since I endure an hour or more drive. Plus, I might add forlornly, my hour drive is not nearly as pretty and serene. My freeway driving consists of looking at the backs of cars and seeing garish billboards, rather than admiring stately looking cows in pastures and seeing budding tomatoes on the vine).

In other words, though some might mistake the distance as being a huge factor while driving in a rural area, it could amount to the same amount of driving time as driving while in the suburbs and big cities.

My commute is bogged down by lots of traffic and the speed I can go is maybe an average of 15-20 miles per hour. For rural driving, there is usually much less traffic and the average speed can be more akin to 40 to 60 miles per hour. Ironically, it seems, their driving time and my driving time is about the same, even though the distance covered is quite different.

In Los Angeles, I am confronted with cars that want to play bumper bashing games, along with pedestrians that dart across busy streets and cause the drivers to radically hit their brakes, playing a kind of Frogger game. You probably would at first assume that driving in rural areas would be a grand relief since there would presumably not be the aspects of cars within inches of each other and nutty pedestrians that are willing to risk their lives to get across the street like a chicken with its head cut-off.

Driving Fatalities Statistics Count

Surprisingly, according to stats provided by governmental highway agencies, car related fatalities in rural areas was nearly 50% of the traffic deaths in the United States, and yet the percentage of the U.S. population in rural areas is only around 20%. Thus, driving in the rural areas is actually a lot more dangerous than you might imagine.

There are various theories about why the driving fatalities rate per capita is so high in the rural areas in comparison to the urban and city areas.

Some say that it is due to the curved roads in rural areas, preventing drivers from seeing around a bend, or perhaps taking curves too fast and skidding into an accident.

Another guess is that the lack of street lighting at night in many rural areas makes it more likely that drivers will not see objects or the roadway or other cars, and therefore the drivers are more apt to hit something than in an urban area that is replete with street lighting.

A somewhat popular theory is that the drivers go very fast in rural areas, being unencumbered by other traffic, and they get themselves into driving troubles that they cannot readily get out of, due to a lack of response time if they had instead been going slower.

Highway Hypnosis Complications

There is also the vaunted “highway hypnosis” that can cause a driver to get into a car accident.

I remember when learning to drive that my driving instructor warned us about the dangers of highway hypnosis. If you aren’t familiar with the phrase itself, I’m sure you are familiar with what it consists of. Mainly, it has to do with becoming zombie-like as a driver when you are driving over large distances in a monotonous landscape and with little or no traffic.

What seems to happen is that your mind becomes dulled, perhaps doing so due to the lack of any changing scenery and the non-use of your thinking processes to handle the driving task. One might say that you are mentally on autopilot.

I remember one terrifying time that I was driving on a country road and doing so for hours on end, and all of a sudden, a deer darted across the road. This was by far worse than any pedestrian in the city darting across the road because I was completely mentally ill-prepared for the deer. Sure, there were lots of deer crossing warning signs, but when you don’t actually see any deer for hours at a time, you mentally begin to disregard the signs. Maybe the signs are only meant to scare you into going slower, you perhaps begin to think, or the deer only cross at a certain time of the year and by luck you aren’t driving on the roads at that time of the year (so your mind blanks out the possibility of a deer appearing any time soon).

When the deer leaped onto the road ahead of me, I even thought it was either a mirage or a gag. It could be that all the deer roadway warning signs had planted the idea of a deer into my brain, and so I was imagining that a deer was suddenly in the roadway. Or, I figured it was maybe a fake deer, a mannequin deer, which had fallen off the back of a truck that was on its way to setup a Christmas display showcasing Santa and his reindeer.

All in all, it took me a solid several seconds to register in my mind that it was an actual deer, and it was actually in my way, and I was actually going to hit it. Thankfully, I swerved, and it moved, so we missed hitting each other, though this took maybe a year or two off my lifetime due to the scare and panic that struck me when it happened. I guess you could say that I was in the grip of highway hypnosis that led to my dulled response (that’s what I was going to have my attorney allege at trial, if I got busted for hitting a deer, if I had struck it!).

Besides the trance or zombie kind of mental state, there’s another kind of mental trickery that can befall you while driving in a rural area. It is called velocitation.

This consists of getting used to going at a high speed and causing you to gradually lose awareness of how fast you are really going. You’ve certainly experienced this. The most likely scenario involves coming off a freeway where you had been going 65 miles per hour and driving onto an off-ramp that is rated at perhaps 30 miles per hour.

When you get onto the on-ramp, you might not realize you are going over twice the speed as recommended for the off-ramp. If you start to brake to ease off the 65 miles per hour, going at say 50 miles per hour might seem like you are going at 30 miles per hour. In essence, going even just slightly slower seems like you are going a lot slower. Your mind gets messed-up about being able to gauge your true speed.

Let’s then add to our list of reasons why rural driving is dangerous by including the potential for getting your mind immersed into highway hypnosis, and also that you might become mentally stagnant about your speed and suffer from velocitation.

Of course, these same kinds of mental maladies can occur for drivers in urban areas too. I mention this to emphasize that it is not something that only occurs in rural driving. I’d say it is more prone to occur and more likely to happen with greater frequency for rural drivers, which arises because of the prevalent driving landscape involved in rural areas.

Lack Of Street Markings

Here’s another aspect about rural driving that is generally more prevalent in rural areas than in other areas, namely the classic unmarked driveways, entrances, exits, and crossroads.

In the normal city driving and suburbia driving, the odds are high that any driveway into or out of a house or property is going to be well-marked and readily seen. Same is the case for entrances into a mall or exits from a school ground. Sure, there might be the occasional exceptions, but I dare say it is usually painted or posted and made apparent by local transportation authorities because of the volume of traffic that goes nearby.

When I drove out to the farm to visit the modern-day farmer, I ended-up on some back-roads by mistake.

There were roads that did not appear on my GPS mapping system. There were hardly any posted signs. The entrance into some of the roads was hidden by trees and other items. I also nearly got banged into by a pick-up truck that sprung from a driveway that I did not see. The pick-up truck was akin to the deer that I had encountered. Yes, I realize that I should be expecting to see pick-up trucks while driving around farms, but having one just dart out from an unmarked driveway caught me off-guard (we didn’t collide, thankfully).

Some call these points at which an unmarked passageway intersects with a fast-moving road to be considered an “instant intersection” and usually is not on a map and is just something that locals know to be watchful about. Locals keep a keen eye for those notorious intersections. An outsider such as me, not being familiar with the roads that I was driving on, could not even predict when those instant intersections were going to “instantaneously” rear their ugly heads. Obviously, if another car wasn’t going to come along at those points, it made little difference to me that they existed, and it was only when another vehicle might magically appear that I was then at risk of collision.

Some of you are maybe saying that I was driving too fast. Slow down, Lance! If you don’t know where those hidden intersections are, you just need to watch your speed and go slow enough to deal with them when they occur.

I found that trying to go slow in some of these rural locations was perhaps as dangerous as going fast.

When I was going slow, there was bound to be a local that was driving fast (just my luck, I guess). My slowness and when combined with their fastness were often a recipe for disaster. They were barreling down a road that they drive every day and came upon my slow-moving car. At times, besides getting a hefty dose of a horn honking from them, it would tend toward a dangerous moment of my either getting hit by the faster moving car, or the faster moving car went around me and potentially put us both in danger if another car was coming toward us.

I certainly did see the need to watch my speed and knew that there might be slow-moving tractors or other slow-moving vehicles from time-to-time. I’ve never had a herd of sheep or cows block me while on a rural road, though I did one time have an entire family of ducks. It was one of those memorable driving moments. Up ahead were some ducks, waddling across the street. I slowed down to a crawl and did not want to scare them. I came to a stop some distance from them and watched in amazement as they took their time, waddle, waddle, waddle.

Believe it or not, a friend of mine later told me that I should have driven right up to them and honked my horn.

Why, you might ask?

He said that by my being quiet, I was deluding them into thinking that going across a car-driven street was safe to do. It would get them into thorny trouble down-the-road, so to speak. If instead I had given them a really big scare, it would have convinced them to never try crossing a street again and presumably someday save their lives. What do you think, did I do a disservice to those cute ducks?

In any case, another factor about rural driving can be the roads at times might not be well maintained.

The roads might suffer from heavy vehicles tearing up the asphalt surface. Rains and cold weather can beat-up the road pavement. There can be roads that are merely packed dirt. In foul weather, some roads can become muddy messes, or on a paved road the potholes are hidden by a layer of rain water.

Road signs might not exist or might be torn and worn. I’ve seen instances of road signs that do exist but are no longer relevant. One said that a gas station was a quarter mile ahead. At the quarter mile mark, there was nothing left but an abandoned set of gas pumps. One sign was a street sign that seemed to mark a street that did not exist and perhaps never did exist, since there wasn’t anything that suggested a road had once been where the sign sat. Maybe the sign maker was hopeful that a street would one day be put there, and in a self-fulfilling prophecy kind of way had put up the sign.

In short, rural areas are their own kind of driving realm with a pronounced kind of landscape and driving challenges.

You can certainly encounter many of the same kinds of driving challenges in any suburban or urban area. Rural areas though tend to have more of and a larger-scale kind of specialty driving task aspects.

There’s no question that someone that can drive in an urban setting will likely be able to drive in a rural setting, which is important to keep in mind.

I highlight that you can drive in an urban setting and likewise be able to drive in a rural setting because I am trying to indicate that the driving skills are roughly the same. When I helped my children learn to drive, I didn’t particularly have to take them to a rural area so that someday they could drive in a rural area. They learned enough about driving in an urban area that they could readily translate their driving skills into being useful for rural driving.

That being the case, there are subtleties that can make a difference when driving in a rural area. As mentioned, you might need to be wary of highway hypnosis, velocitation, roads that are in bad shape, hidden entrances and driveways, high speeds over lengthy stretches, and deal with other drivers that take their rural roadways for granted and aren’t on-the-look for less-familiar with the landscape drivers. There are also the jaywalking ducks and sheep to be dealt with, which I must say are easier on the eyes than those human pedestrians that give you the death-to-all-drivers stare when they are illegally crossing a city street.

Rural Driving And AI Self-Driving Autonomous Cars

What does this have to do with AI self-driving driverless autonomous cars?

At the Cybernetic AI Self-Driving Car Institute, we are developing AI software for self-driving cars. One crucial aspect, we believe, involves having the AI be able to drive a self-driving car in rural areas, in addition to being able to drive in the city and urban areas.

Allow me to elaborate.

I’d like to first clarify and introduce the notion that there are varying levels of AI self-driving cars. The topmost level is considered Level 5. A Level 5 self-driving car is one that is being driven by the AI and there is no human driver involved. For the design of Level 5 self-driving cars, the automakers are even removing the gas pedal, brake pedal, and steering wheel, since those are contraptions used by human drivers. The Level 5 self-driving car is not being driven by a human and nor is there an expectation that a human driver will be present in the self-driving car. It’s all on the shoulders of the AI to drive the car.

For self-driving cars less than a Level 5, there must be a human driver present in the car. The human driver is currently considered the responsible party for the acts of the car. The AI and the human driver are co-sharing the driving task. In spite of this co-sharing, the human is supposed to remain fully immersed into the driving task and be ready at all times to perform the driving task. I’ve repeatedly warned about the dangers of this co-sharing arrangement and predicted it will produce many untoward results.

For my overall framework about AI self-driving cars, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/framework-ai-self-driving-driverless-cars-big-picture/

For the levels of self-driving cars, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/richter-scale-levels-self-driving-cars/

For why AI Level 5 self-driving cars are like a moonshot, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/self-driving-car-mother-ai-projects-moonshot/

For the dangers of co-sharing the driving task, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/human-back-up-drivers-for-ai-self-driving-cars/

Let’s focus herein on the true Level 5 self-driving car. Much of the comments apply to the less than Level 5 self-driving cars too, but the fully autonomous AI self-driving car will receive the most attention in this discussion.

Here’s the usual steps involved in the AI driving task:

  • Sensor data collection and interpretation
  • Sensor fusion
  • Virtual world model updating
  • AI action planning
  • Car controls command issuance

Another key aspect of AI self-driving cars is that they will be driving on our roadways in the midst of human driven cars too. There are some pundits of AI self-driving cars that continually refer to a utopian world in which there are only AI self-driving cars on the public roads. Currently there are about 250+ million conventional cars in the United States alone, and those cars are not going to magically disappear or become true Level 5 AI self-driving cars overnight.

Indeed, the use of human driven cars will last for many years, likely many decades, and the advent of AI self-driving cars will occur while there are still human driven cars on the roads. This is a crucial point since this means that the AI of self-driving cars needs to be able to contend with not just other AI self-driving cars, but also contend with human driven cars. It is easy to envision a simplistic and rather unrealistic world in which all AI self-driving cars are politely interacting with each other and being civil about roadway interactions. That’s not what is going to be happening for the foreseeable future. AI self-driving cars and human driven cars will need to be able to cope with each other.

For my article about the grand convergence that has led us to this moment in time, see: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/grand-convergence-explains-rise-self-driving-cars/

See my article about the ethical dilemmas facing AI self-driving cars: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/ethically-ambiguous-self-driving-cars/

For potential regulations about AI self-driving cars, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/assessing-federal-regulations-self-driving-cars-house-bill-passed/

For my predictions about AI self-driving cars for the 2020s, 2030s, and 2040s, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/gen-z-and-the-fate-of-ai-self-driving-cars/

Returning to the rural area aspects, there are a number of AI driving elements that come to play when an AI self-driving car encounters a rural landscape.

Debunking False Notions About Rural Areas

I’d like to first tackle a misconception that seems to be spreading about the notion of AI self-driving cars being deployed in rural areas, namely that it won’t be worthwhile to have AI self-driving cars in rural areas.

This notion is exemplified by an article in a major automotive magazine last year in which there was an article entitled “Autonomous State,” and an alleged expert on self-driving cars indicated that there is no benefit to having an AI self-driving car in rural areas, asserting that since there is so minuscule of a rural population that it isn’t worth having a ride-sharing self-driving car be situated in those parts of the country.

I would certainly argue that claiming there is no benefit to having an AI self-driving car in a rural area is absolutely wrong.

There are in fact many benefits.

If the word “benefit” means that there must be some (one or more) advantages to having an AI self-driving car, doing so over the use of a conventional or legacy car, and if the suggestion is that there is no advantage of having an AI self-driving car over having a conventional car while in rural areas, I believe we can easily poke a hole in that balloon.

When I met with the farmer at his modern-day farmhouse, he indicated that each morning and afternoon he or his wife drove their children to and from the school, taking about 30 to 40 minutes each way to make the drive. This meant that either he or his wife had to leave the farm to simply drive the children to school. It also meant that one of the two (the husband or the wife) was unavailable to work the farm during that driving task.

The farmer also indicated that each day they typically would need to go get supplies from various supply depots that were in various areas of the rural community. Once again, either he or his wife made those drives. And, once again, the driving task denied one of them of actually working the farm since they were only acting as a driver during those supply runs.

I realize you might want to counter-argue that it would be “only” maybe an hour or two of their day to do the driving, but I’d like to point out that this is still nonetheless a drain on their available time to work the farm. Furthermore, here’s an added twist that is not simply a labor oriented time-based factor per se.

He mentioned that there have been occasions when their daughter or son was at school and became sick and wanted to come home right away. Usually, unfortunately, he and his wife were both in a remote spot of the farm, each working the land, the cattle, the crops, etc. Upon getting a call from the school, one of them had to quickly get from the remote part of the farm and back to the farmhouse, and then drive from the farmhouse over to the school. This was being done under duress in that they would naturally be concerned about getting to their child as rapidly as they could.

If they had available an AI self-driving car, the self-driving car could routinely take the children back-and-forth to school.

This would relieve the farmer and his wife from making the drive and thus add time to their labor efforts towards the farm itself.

The AI self-driving car would also be ready for any emergency situation such as the children getting sick while at school, and could be remotely dispatched by the farmer, electronically commanding it from afar while in the remote areas of the farm. The AI self-driving car would then drive to the school, doing so from the farmhouse, pick-up the child, and whisk the child back to the farmhouse. While inside the AI self-driving car, the camera inside the self-driving car would allow the parents to remotely interact with the child and see how the child was doing.

In short, an AI self-driving car would absolutely aid the farmer and his family, doing so by acting as an automated chauffeur for the children and for making supply runs.

I’m sure there are lots of other uses they could come up with for an AI self-driving car.

I also have focused primarily on the rural aspects of a farm, but it should be hopefully self-evident that an AI self-driving car could be handy for other rural landscapes beyond just a farm.

With the spread-out nature of a rural area, any kind of human driving is going to likely be time consuming and there are bound to be many kinds of circumstances for which having an AI self-driving car would be highly prized.

Perhaps you live in a rural area and go to work each day, leaving at home your elderly grandma. She is too old to drive a car and cannot get around on her own. With an AI self-driving car, she would have greater mobility. This could come to play on everyday desires of going someplace, and it could also be especially helpful for moments when she might need to see a doctor or go get her medicines.

For more about the elderly and AI self-driving cars, see my article: https://aitrends.com/ethics-and-social-issues/elderly-boon-bust-self-driving-cars/

For family trips in AI self-driving cars, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/family-road-trip-and-ai-self-driving-cars/

For the aspects of ridesharing and AI self-driving cars, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/ridesharing-services-and-ai-self-driving-cars-notably-uber-in-or-uber-out/

For the affordability of AI self-driving cars, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/affordability-of-ai-self-driving-cars/

Considering The ROI Matter

Okay, I believe I’ve well-expunged the idea that there is no benefit of an AI self-driving car for rural areas. That was easy. I’ll consider that perhaps the notion of “no benefit” was actually meant to be more akin to the idea that there is not a viable ROI (Return on Investment) related to having an AI self-driving car in a rural area.

In other words, you cannot usually look only at benefits when weighing the value of something, but also need to look at the costs too. You then compare the benefits to the costs and try to calculate whether the benefits end-up outweighing the costs. If there is a suitable ROI, you could assert that the benefits are outweighing the costs and therefore the item is worth investing in. If there is not a suitable ROI, you would likely assert that the costs outweigh the benefits and therefore the matter is not likely sensible to invest in.

Therefore, rather than suggesting there aren’t any benefits of having an AI self-driving car in a rural area, it would be more sensible for someone to try to argue that there isn’t a sufficient ROI. By recasting the argument into the use of an ROI, you can escape the rather obvious counter-pounding that there are indeed clear-cut benefits. The question becomes whether those benefits outweigh the costs or not.

I’ve previously tackled the topic of ridesharing and AI self-driving cars, and also assessed the affordability of AI self-driving cars for consumers. Allow me to quickly recap some key elements of those relevant topics herein.

Many view that AI self-driving cars will predominantly be used for ride-sharing purposes. This makes sense in that suppose you go to work and need a lift to get there, you might opt to use an AI self-driving car on a ride-sharing basis to do so. It is predicted by some self-driving car pundits that consumers will gradually eschew owning their own car and will mainly use ride-sharing AI self-driving cars as their mode of transportation.

I’ve broken that kind of thinking about car ownership by pointing out that consumers could presumably do likewise in terms of turning a self-driving car into a ride-sharing money maker for themselves. You use your AI self-driving car to get you to work, and then allow your AI self-driving car the rest of the day to earn money as a ride-sharing service. When you finish your work day, it picks you up and takes you home. While at home at night, you send out your AI self-driving car for further ride-sharing money-making activity.

In that case, your AI self-driving car is a money maker. This allows you to potentially afford the likely higher cost of an AI self-driving car over a conventional car. Owning an AI self-driving car could be a means to make money on-the-side, or it could even become your primary source of making money. Why should the auto makers or ride-sharing firms make that money when you could do so instead? Today, the tough thing is finding human drivers to drive cars, but with the AI self-driving car you have no need to deal with the human driver hiring aspects.

Let’s return to the rural setting.

I’ve earlier herein indicated that the population is usually sparsely distributed in a rural locale.

The question of making money off an AI self-driving car as a ride-sharing vehicle becomes whether the sparseness of the population defeats the potential of making money.

In a big city environment, an AI self-driving car as a ride-sharing vehicle is presumably going to readily have paying riders and do so back-to-back. There will be lots of short rides and many of them in a city or urban setting (hopefully; though this must be tempered by the amount of competition, since it could be that we end-up with zillions of AI self-driving cars all trying to grab the same ride-sharing requests!).

Suppose the farmer that I met had an AI self-driving car. He could use it for taking the kids to school and for doing the other supply depot errands for him. Could he also offer it up as a ride-sharing service to other people in the rural area? Yes, of course. The downside would be that it would likely be spending a lot of its time merely getting to wherever the next customer was and thus not earning money directly per se when it was merely in transit.

In the case of the urban or city setting, many pundits are assuming that an AI self-driving car won’t need to use a lot of time to get to its next customer and that customers will be aplenty in a limited geographical distance. I say this because money producing models about AI self-driving cars are often based on the belief that there will be little non-use time and that an AI self-driving car will pretty much continually be toting around paying riders.

I’m not so sure those models are right and are perhaps optimistically assuming that there is little or no competition. The other day, I took a ride-sharing service to the airport and the human driver told me that it was better for him to sit at the airport and wait for his next potential customer, even though there are lots of other ride-sharing vehicles also waiting, versus his getting back into the downtown area to find a customer.

He indicated that the downtown area was a worse random-chance of finding a paying customer and also that the short hops were killing him in that he would get a short hop that paid just a few bucks and then be idle for a long time. He said that by picking up someone from the airport, it would be a longer haul and more money than by simply rushing back into the downtown area.

In the case of rural areas, we cannot axiomatically assume that a ride-sharing use of an AI self-driving car is doomed to a poor or insufficient ROI. It certainly might seem that way and one’s intuition seems to suggest it. But, it also depends upon the competition. If every farmer opts to buy an AI self-driving car and do so while living in the same rural area, it would tend to imply that they aren’t going to be able to use their AI self-driving car as a money maker since everyone else nearby also has one anyway. On the other hand, if only some buy an AI self-driving car, there is a chance that it could be a money maker in that rural area.

Back to the aspect of whether there is any benefit of an AI self-driving car being in a rural area, I’d claim that there is absolutely a benefit. In terms of whether there is a sound ROI, I’d say that we’d need to consider the particulars of a rural area and know more about what the cost of the AI self-driving car will be, along with how much competition there will be. Some rural areas could be handsome ROI’s and others not.

I’d like to also re-think this benefits question by turning the question in a different way.

If you take the position that there is no beneficial basis for having an AI self-driving car in a rural area, regardless of how you come to that calculation, you are also then silently asserting that the rural area will continue to use conventional or legacy cars to get around.

Essentially, you are dooming the rural area to continuing with conventional cars or at least AI self-driving cars that are not autonomous.

Pretty quick of you to cast about 20% of the United States population into a bucket wherein they are not able to enjoy the use of AI self-driving cars. Even if those people are widely dispersed, it still seems like a hefty sized market and one that would be foolish to ignore.

Perhaps several farmers might band together to purchase an AI self-driving car and use it as a kind of community-oriented ride-sharing service. Maybe the local community bands together and gets a fleet of AI self-driving cars and uses local tax dollars to run the fleet. My point being that it does not necessarily need to be the case that an AI self-driving car is owned by a single individual or a family.

Another aspect is that we aren’t yet calculating in all of this the lost time to doing human driving, in the sense that if the farmer or his wife were able to work the farm longer, what is the value of their time and how does it equate to the cost of the AI self-driving car?

There are also the safety aspects that we probably would be best to consider in all of this discussion about rural areas and AI self-driving cars.

I had mentioned that nearly half of the car fatalities in the United States occur in the rural areas. If that’s the case, and if you are suggesting that AI self-driving cars are not “worthwhile” having in rural areas, and if we are to assume that AI self-driving cars will dramatically curtail the death rate of car accidents, you are then condemning the rural areas to continue to be a slaughterhouse based on human driving foibles (that’s a bit of hyperbole, which I use only to help make the point herein).

Hopefully, the deploying of AI self-driving cars in rural areas would reduce the chances of getting into a car related fatality. An AI self-driving car needs to be able to avoid getting into any kind of highway hypnosis, which humans fall prey to. An AI self-driving car needs to be able to avoid getting into a velocitation mode, which humans do.

Can an AI self-driving car handle the long stretches of monotonous driving that occurs in rural areas?

That certainly ought to be the case.

Can AI self-driving cars cope with the winding curved roads and the unexpected “instant intersections” of poorly labeled driveways and entrances? That’s a tougher requirement, for sure. There is an added chance that the AI might do better by the use of Machine Learning (ML) and Deep Learning (DL), wherein the more that any AI self-driving cars cover that same landscape, it could be shared with other AI self-driving cars via cloud-based learning and put them on the same plain as a “local” that is familiar with the roads and their idiosyncratic elements via their use of OTA (Over-The-Air) updating.

See my article about plasticity and Deep Learning: https://aitrends.com/ai-insider/plasticity-in-deep-learning-dynamic-adaptations-for-ai-self-driving-cars/

See my article about Ensemble Machine Learning: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/ensemble-machine-learning-for-ai-self-driving-cars/

See my article about Machine Learning benchmarks: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/machine-learning-benchmarks-and-ai-self-driving-cars/

See my article about Federated Machine Learning: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/federated-machine-learning-for-ai-self-driving-cars/

For aspects about OTA, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/air-ota-updating-ai-self-driving-cars/

V2V And V2I Come To Play

Another potential advantage for AI self-driving cars being safer than human drivers could involve the use of V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) electronic communications, along with V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure) electronic communications.

I had earlier mentioned that when driving in a rural area, another car came upon me that was moving quite fast and I presumed it was a local that knew the roads well. The other driver was somewhat caught by surprise at my slower moving car. I was somewhat caught by surprise by the other driver that suddenly came upon me.

With AI self-driving cars, the AI of one car could electronically communicate with another AI self-driving car, using V2V, and forewarn the other one that they are both coming upon each other. This could be essential for also dealing with the “instant intersection” situations. Even though one AI self-driving car might not be able to visually or via radar detect another AI self-driving car that is coming out of a driveway that is blocked by a clump of trees, they might be able to communicate via V2V to let each other know of the other one’s presence. They would then adjust their driving accordingly.

I’ve coined the word “omnipresence” to refer to multiple AI self-driving cars that share with each other the status of a roadway. This could be handy for when several AI self-driving cars are in the vicinity of each other and driving on say a mountain road. One AI self-driving car up ahead might alert the others that a deer just darted across the road. Another AI self-driving car might have detected rock debris in the road and alerted the other AI self-driving cars to be wary of the blockage. And so on.

The roadway infrastructure might also communicate with the AI self-driving cars. Via V2I, a hidden driveway might beacon out a message to let any AI self-driving cars driving nearby know that there is a hidden driveway there. Thus, even if there had not yet been any other AI self-driving cars that went past that driveway and could alert others, the beacon itself would do so.

For my article about omnipresence and AI self-driving cars, see: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/omnipresence-ai-self-driving-cars/

For the use of 5G and AI self-driving cars, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/5g-and-ai-self-driving-cars/

For the pranking of AI self-driving cars, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/pranking-of-ai-self-driving-cars/

For more about safety of AI self-driving cars, see my article: https://aitrends.com/ai-insider/safety-and-ai-self-driving-cars-world-safety-summit-on-autonomous-tech/

For the egocentric mindset of AI developers, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/egocentric-design-and-ai-self-driving-cars/

Conclusion

I’d vote that AI developers should be honing AI self-driving cars to be able to drive in rural areas.

In spite of some that are suggesting there won’t be any benefit of AI self-driving cars being used in rural areas, it is my view that they not only might have a viable ROI numerically, they could also save lives in rural areas, and that would presumably have some economic benefit too.

AI self-driving cars might involve individual ownership by rural livers, and/or it might involve collectives that jointly obtain an AI self-driving car and put it to use in their rural area.

For those AI developers that assume their AI self-driving car will readily work in a rural area if it already works in an urban setting, I’d advise that you reconsider that assumption. There are enough twists and turns to make it worthwhile to enhance the AI to cope specifically with the aspects of rural driving. I had earlier indicated that when I helped my children learn to drive that I had not needed to explicitly cover rural driving, but once they did do some rural driving on their own, they had to learn the nuances thereof. AI developers ought to bake those nuances directly into their AI self-driving car capabilities.

Will an AI self-driving car enjoy watching someone tip over a cow?

Probably not.

Will an AI self-driving car become captivated by the wide expanse of majestic crops that stretch to the horizon.

Better not.

Would an AI self-driving car become an essential and valued element in rural living?

I’d bet so.

We went from horse and plow to conventional cars, and the transformation to AI self-driving cars is likely to be as dramatic and valuable.

Rural areas will welcome AI self-driving cars and the benefits will be substantive, you can mark my words on that.

Copyright 2020 Dr. Lance Eliot

This content is originally posted on AI Trends.

[Ed. Note: For reader’s interested in Dr. Eliot’s ongoing business analyses about the advent of self-driving cars, see his online Forbes column: https://forbes.com/sites/lanceeliot/]