The seat cushions have eyes

Published 1:24 pm Thursday, August 10, 2017

While browsing news headlines recently, I saw one about a “driverless” van cruising the streets in Arlington, VA which made some people turn heads until it was revealed that there actually was a driver after all. A guy well-disguised as a seat cushion.

According to various news reports, the man was a part of a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to see how people react to a driverless car. The car-seat guy would not answer any questions from the reporter who found him. (Presumably either because he’s not supposed to talk about the study, or he simply couldn’t speak through his costume.)

I don’t know how everyone else reacted, but I probably would have done a double- or triple-take and wondered whether my eyes were playing tricks on me. The idea is just eerie to even think about, like anything, honestly, that isn’t supposed to move without human help. That’s the premise of a horror movie right there. Murderous puppets, murderous videos, murderous cars, etc.

To see an empty car in motion would have been a distraction for me, which is unfortunate because the whole point of automated cars is to make us safer from our distracted driving.

I’m admittedly slow to try new technologies. I like to get in my technological comfort zone and stay there (which is why I still cart around a ton of CDs in my car instead of upgrading to whatever device people use to listen to music these days.) So the idea of a car that can drive itself is not anything I’m eager to try out anytime soon.

They say the computer is to account for human error, but who will account for computer error? Computers malfunction and are just as unreliable as we are. Or am I the only one who yells at my old laptop at least once a week for not working correctly?

Additionally, the computer in a self-driving car is going to have to rely on accurate road signs and easy-to-see painted lines to navigate around. How will it compensate for the stop sign on the corner that got knocked down? How will it deal with an old road with faded lines or a newly paved road without any lines at all?

Our roads here are nice, but they’re not that nice.

Some researchers have also found that stickers or graffiti on signs might confuse the technology as well.

And we haven’t even talked about the possibility of people hacking the computer in the car. Because apparently that can happen to any tech with access to wi-fi. Although anyone hacking into my car will have to endure an onslaught of Japanese rock music from my CD player, so maybe I’ll be safe from that particular problem.

Whatever the case is, I’d rather we just leave automated cars to the sci-fi novels. Maybe next time I drive somewhere, I’ll just avoid looking to see whether there’s anyone in the car beside me.


Holly Taylor is a staff writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or by phone at 252-332-7206.