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
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?