Istanbul, long after midnight. Still warm and sticky. We are gliding smoothly along a wide body of water, the Bosphorus Strait between Asia and Europe. This inky passage is framed by palace lights, mosques and the sounds of traffic as we approach the well-worn terminal. It might be late but Istanbul is just getting started.
2012 / August. Back then, tourists are everywhere and the mood is carefree. Rooftops are full and there is plenty of cold beer. Taxis are not hard to find, but our group requires three.
This somehow naturally provides a competition between the crew.
We have a start. We have a finish. We have many ways to get to the same spot.
And we have an unexpected taxi race through the heart of Istanbul that we should have been filming. Let the games begin.
Exhausted, marginal, dirty-yellow taxi/racers full of people. Two taxis take the highway around the back, but our driver plunges straight through town. Mirror-hung prayer beads, loosely, indicate the lateral G-forces.
About 10 mph over the traffic speed so smiles are still showing on all the party faces. Late-night traffic is moving and lane changes are frequent. We seem to be flying right along until the sirens.
Overseas, cultures tend to have a different approach to sirens, depending on the mood and the density of the traffic. Laws are different and without police presence…let’s just say the rules are “open for interpretation.”
There is an ambulance behind us. White with red stripes, blue lights flashing and the common two-tone, high-low siren blaring. Blues and Twos might be the cliché. So our taxi nudges over at speed to let him slip by. All seems OK, Party smiles continue.
Aren’t we having fun?
Then our taxi driver tucks in behind the screaming ambulance, 25 feet off the rear bumper. We are now drafting the bone wagon all the way to the hospital, and I am not making up a word.
Straight through red lights. Wrong way up roads. Wiggle through crowded intersections. Seems to be working. Illumination through the small rear windows offer profiles of the paramedics who have seen this all before. Yeah, Yeah. Another Turkish Lewis Hamilton ready for the big time. We are locked on that ambulance bumper.
This isn’t a one-minute ride of fun. This is 15 minutes of mild panic with an air of madness. We were nothing but passengers with no control. Just along for the ride. Trusting the taxi driver had applied this trick many, many times before.
Which brings me to semi-autonomously operated vehicles.
Driver? Or passenger?
There comes a moment when each of us has to make the call. Do you trust the new system? How much do you trust the new system? Is your new driver-aided, semi-autonomous, fully connected vehicle gonna do the right thing? Or, like many of us…will you keep your foot hovering over the brake pedal waiting for the glitch?
While testing and filming new trucks in Arizona in 2016, I had my autonomous moment. 6,500 pounds of early prototype truck, hauling 12,000 pounds of trailer and it’s all pointed down a long steep grade. Real world boys and girls, in real time, with a FedEx tractor-trailer unknowingly providing the moving target.
Three keystrokes of the steering wheel pad and we are locked on. Forward-looking cruise control is downshifting, braking, and resetting the throttle to maintain the same 30-foot gap for miles. My truck and trailer is locked onto the box trailer of the semi in front and this entire multi-ton carnival is plunging down to the desert floor on automatic. My feet are nowhere near the pedals. Awesome. Thrilling. I’m just the passenger while the truck is processing the data. How do we film this?
The overwhelming question is how long do we remain DRIVERS or are we all destined to become only PASSENGERS? Data pilots.
Oh yeah. We won the taxi race.