With so much of our modern lives plugged in and subject to terms and conditions, we would be forgiven for missing the odd update in the seemingly endless litany of new technology.
But sometimes a new thing comes along that changes everything, and that we remember forever. The announcement on Monday that Armidale will be trialling regional NSW's first driverless shuttle could be one of those big, memorable tech leaps for a couple of reasons.
First, (because we’re nothing if not optimistic) it might actually work.
State government has partnered with a company called EasyMile to deliver a version of its EZ10 shuttle for us to play with, potentially for the next two years. The vehicle uses light detection and ranging technology to identify obstacles within 40 metres in all directions, cameras to see what is going on, and GPS navigation to stay on track. All this navigation gear is bound up in the company’s proprietary ‘SLAM technology’, which it says keeps the shuttle travelling safely on its predetermined route, accurate to less than one centimetre of deviation.
There are also a handful of safety redundancies for an onboard system constantly managing traction control, braking and navigation. There are three big stop buttons on board in case of emergency, and a breathing human with a pulse can take control whenever necessary. So, we can probably put any lingering safety concerns to bed.
What we should be thinking about is the potential and impact this technology could have in Armidale, which is significant. An at-least-partially automated public transport network could overcome the logistical limits of our existing systems, providing a connection in the city that links important services, improves access to the town and, presumably, runs around the clock and costs passengers next to nothing.
But success comes not without some concerns. Many industries (our own included) are facing changes, and struggle, with the seemingly inevitable march of automation. It is possible that the success of automated public transport could, as we have seen in other sectors, come at the cost of jobs for manual operators in an industry that employs thousands. But let's not get carried away just yet.
Read more: Armidale’s first driverless vehicle will begin trials at UNE by the end of 2018 (July 23, 2018)
This does get us thinking, though, about the second way new technological becomes memorable - when it turns into a big, multi-million-dollar turkey.
We would never suggest that our driverless lunchbox could come dead on arrival. But sometimes, new technology *cough* Google Glass *cough* can have unexpected uptake.
UNE tells us, for example, that 800 cars move between its residential and academic campuses on any weekday morning. This either means that uni students and staff really like driving themselves around, or that there are some clear limitations to the existing public transport network, or both.
We don't really know yet if anyone will be interested in riding the slow shuttle to work or school. Maybe they won't. Maybe automated transport is a flop.
But we hope it isn't.
And we trust that the trials already underway in Sydney, and around the world, prove that it isn’t.
We hope that, in trialling this thing, we can find a way to make our town better, more connected, and more inclusive for people who, for a lot of reasons, feel isolated or excluded by the limitations of our current systems.
Read more: Armidale is racing to become the first regional city with driverless technology(March 5, 2018)
It’s easy to be cynical about new technology. Let’s face it, the companies and governments that deliver it have done little of late to make us feel hopeful or trusting of new things – or of some of the old ones for that matter. But that is not a good enough excuse to not participate.
There will surely be bugs to root out, as there are with all new technology. But if we have the ability to contribute to the development of technology that improves the lives of those at the mercy of the status quo, then we bloody-well have the responsibility to do so, too.
It’s the least that we can do.
To that end, we hope this zippy automated bus can do great things for Armidale, and for everyone living here. So much so, that we find ourselves one day wondering how we ever lived without it.