Hey Plug & Plays, Bring Self-Driving Cars To The Playa!

by Terry Gotham

Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ve heard about autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars. It’s moved so far out of the Google/Silicon Valley bubble that late night talk shows are cracking jokes about the emerging technology. The sophistication inherent in these vehicles has been expanding in leaps & bounds, to the point where entire towns have been built to test them. The tech is so good now that there’s not even a point to having a steering wheel. As it starts to move into the realm of policy & actuarial models begin to incorporate these cars, it’s time to give ourselves a break. At the risk of sounding self-important, let’s think of what we can do with these things besides reduce congestion, eliminate drunk driving & dampen carbon emissions worldwide.  The nice things is that some of these cars use the same parts as the regular cars, so if you already have a site when you search about car parts as garage chief you can still use it for a self-driving car.

While I know this is totally impossible for this year’s thing in the desert, I’d love to put it out there to get you thinking about it while you’re roving the playa. I think Google & all of the self-driving car companies need to start field-testing these things out at Black Rock City. I think we’ve seen hundreds of people injure themselves biking in the darkness, everyone has heard or experienced a story where they’re moving around in the dark and someone doesn’t have the right blinky shiny. 

So let’s put these bad boys to work. Just think about it. shuttle service to & from the temple, the DMZ & the man. Chart an expedition to the trash fence & sip cocktails on the way out there. Swarms of autonomous vehicles that follow art cars, having little micro-parties inside of them, while connected to their sound system. I think the people who are developing these vehicles should most certainly think long and hard about investing hardware & experiential gifting to their design arc.

Yes of course people are still going to want control options, and because of the fact that it’s on the playa, maybe they could have them. or maybe it could just be a nice little exercise in “letting go.” I’ve always thought of Burning Man as what a colony of settlers would look like, when we finally get to places otherworldly. I think the futuristic, neo-urban vibe could not only be enhanced by the cars, but building in an automated transit system is possible there more easily than any other art/music festival in the world. But, it would also be hilariously expensive. And this is where all those 1% camps come in. Hey extensively wealthy people who go to the plug & play camps on the outskirts, want to get around & see the cool things, but don’t want to talk to anyone, got an idea for you. What if, y’all funded this stuff, in exchange for having your own personal/slightly better transports. Here’s how it looks: the tech illuminati that hang out at BM just magic’d up a “hazard test” for the technology, brought it to the playa, got everyone to sign a second death waiver, and then can access the service to transport ice, get to the deep playa, or just make it from 10 to 5 without having to bike in the 1pm sun. Obviously, priority would be given to Rangers, Green Dot transporting patients, children, the elderly and that one time you swore you saw a pregnant woman on playa. Transport could have BM radio piped in and be re-directed during events and help ensure people aren’t traveling through the deep playa stoned as fuck.

In exchange, the 1% get future vehicles on playa, and of course, I assume their personal rides would be better than the ones your average attendee would interact with. This, for everyone who has forgotten the time, is the experience most people who don’t have access to art cars experience anyway. This would also give them a way to prove they have something to contribute, even if they don’t want to leave their plug & play camps outside of the IncuBubble rides they’ll be testing out.
Some of this may be tongue in cheek, but I think this is definitely within the realm of the possible. Especially with the micro-deployment that could be tested out, in addition to the more sophisticated feedback you’d just happen to get because of the breadth & depth of technical experience and straight up lifestyle of the different burners using your product.

People keep asking for their jetpack as proof that it’s the future. Forget jetpacks. I want my robot car. Specifically, I want a robot car to take me from party to party on playa & when I get bored of that, I want to be able to tell it to follow whatever art car replaces the Dancetronauts juggernaut. It’ll drive along matching speed & direction, possibly even broadcasting the audio out of the speaker system inside of my pod car. Perhaps a couple of channels, illustrated by what color the pod glows. Kind of like Silent Disco headsets, but with cars. Do you agree?

11 comments on “Hey Plug & Plays, Bring Self-Driving Cars To The Playa!

  1. Pingback: Notes On Two Wheels: Stupid Laws, Stoned Burners & Public Transportation | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  2. My new car has all kind of driver assist features. I hate them all. I couldn’t wait to learn to drive and had my license on the day I turned 16. Americans, in particular and in general, LOVE driving. The car is a symbol of freedom. A self driving car is a symbol of lethargy and complacency. It’s about 10 times worse than someone who refuses to learn how to drive a stick.

  3. Discofish has self-driving capability, but they don’t use it during the burn. I was camped next to them last year and got a chance to see all the cool stuff like LIDAR the driver uses to make sure they don’t hit anything. Apparently a few Google engineers on that crew.

    And their camp is in no way a PnP. Plus they are very nice people to boot.

    • I’m not sure – that plug and play camp has been doing a 2 coasted sweep for helpers over the past several days, and apparently once had the likes of Joe Biden in their ranks according to their Facebook page. Plus, we all know PnP’s aren’t going away…I’m just surprised that they are stuck right in the center of the esplanade this year :-/.

      Elon Musk looks to possibly be camping there…maybe they are the right people to talk to about the self driving cars?

      • PnP placed on the Esplinade? …Yeah, they are going to have to pay me to do my theme camp at the NV burn as part of the entertainment for these rich kids (regardless of age). I suppose we would need to do some kickstarter campaign, or maybe get the Burn Coin(tm) thing going.

      • Discofish? Their camp was so low key we wouldn’t have known they were in part Google people except by talking to them. Tents, a few old campers/RVs. And a Pac-Man game set up by the road 🙂

  4. The biggest problem with self driving cars currently, is the inability to accurately make decisions regarding object avoidance. Thankfully going 5mph would help quite a bit, but computers don’t have the processing power to determine the difference between harmless debris (like a plastic bag), and something necessary to avoid like a pedestrian. There are also major problems with unavoidable crashes, where the processing power cannot handle the decision to collide with the object least likely to result in injuries. I think they would get very confused with so much unpredictable traffic, confusing lights and such, so this would definitely make an incredibly difficult challenge, and a fantastic proving ground for driverless cars.

    Also, theres a huge problem of providing fuel/power to the vehicles. An entitlement camper certainly wouldn’t stand for plugging their vehicle in, or filling it with petrol, so we would benefit from automating that process. It’s just good business, if you can save the money people from hiring people who might quit in an area with few employee prospects.

    They should also transform from mutant transportation, to mobile gift station (the dispensing of gifts would also need to be automated), to party mobile, to a roving bedroom for defiling mistresses of merriment, to suit the constantly changing desires of the rich. They would need to feel as though they were having a “true” burner experience, no matter how sterile it truly is.

    Lots of hurdles, but I’m certain it can be done with enough cash. I’ll get my kickstarter going right after this years burn 😜

        • “Specifically, we are looking for:
          -Nighttime host / hostess
          -Bartenders familiar with popular east coast cocktails
          -DJs with knowledge of popular dance music along the coast, with particular interest in the Jersey Shore area
          -Executive assistants from the medical profession…preferably those with experience in cosmetic surgery offices.”

          Well, maybe.

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