Wednesday, April 12, 2017

More robots: stupid, or annoying?

The Guardian, for a wonder, asks the question: do we really want big Roombas cluttering up the sidewalks?

Sharing a sidewalk with one of DoorDash's delivery robots is a bit like getting stuck behind someone playing Pokémon Go on his smartphone. The robot moves a little bit slower than you want to; every few meters it pauses, jerking to the left or right, perhaps turning around, then turning again before continuing on its way.

These are the sidewalks of the future, technology evangelists promise. Autonomous delivery robots, once the exclusive purview of 1980s sci-fi movies, are coming to a city near you, with promises of reduced labor costs, increased efficiency and the reduction of cars.

If you've ever seen one of these things in action, they are dumber than shit. No human could tolerate being stuck behind one. You'd kick it out of the way after thirty seconds, for sure.

So far we hear nothing but cheerful happy-sappy propaganda from the techies who just LOVE these things. They're salivating over the billions of dollars they're going to make.

But here's the thing. One dumber-than-shit robot is a novelty at best, an ignore-able obstruction at worst. The town pizzeria gets a couple for in-town delivery, no big deal.

Hundreds of the damn things, from UPS to the pizza guy to the government delivering welfare checks to some other dumb service/scam we haven't thought of yet, you are not going to be able to ignore that.

They have to cross the street, right? They take longer than a crippled old drunk with a walker to do it. They have to wait for traffic lights. But if there's only a stop sign, then what? You're going to see ten of them waiting at a stop sign when its busy. They're going to get stuck. They're going to get lost. They're going to get rolled upside down and broken open by kids. They're going to wander into your driveway and be attacked by the dog. They're going to end up in the middle of an intersection blowing their tiny annoying horn and blinking their distress light because they had a nervous breakdown. They'll run out of battery. They'll end up busted on your front lawn, and the cops will give -you- a ticket.

The problem, as usual, is greed. The robots suck, but they are super cheap, and they are almost good enough. So, look for your delivery job to go to a Coleman cooler on wheels in the next five years.

The Cooler Phantom


Jonathan H said...

Not only that, what happens when there is road or sidewalk work? What happens in rural areas where there isn't a curb or sidewalk?
Like many high tech 'advances' I have seen proposed, they seem to only work right on clean, well built, un-crowded cities - news flash: most people in the US DON'T live in cities!

The Phantom said...

Hi Johnathan.

I looked out my window when I read about the sidewalk thing and laughed. Any little cooler-on-wheels trundling down the road out here will end up in the ditch for sure. Nearest sidewalk is a mile away.

Around here, delivery trucks with men driving them end up in the ditch sometimes. A deliver truck with a robot? Going to get expensive.

Jonathan H said...

Same with my place - the paving on my access 'road' ends half a mile from my house. I have friends who won't visit because they are afraid their car will get damaged in the process.
For most of that half mile, 2 cars have trouble passing; anything bigger just isn't happening. There are times in the winter when 4 wheel drive is a must to get in or out.
Most GPS maps have finally found my road and a few even have my house in nearly the right place!