Look Ma… No Hands!

handsfreeMaybe you were a daredevil child and would ride your bike without holding the handlebars. I eventually was to be able to do that after years of riding … still couldn’t do it when the bike went through soft sand though. The idea was to show off a bit and ask your mother to notice.

We now have people who try to drive their cars the same way, using their hands to fumble with the phone or worse yet to text. The chilling adage here is a bumper sticker that says, “Honk if you love Jesus. Text if you would like to meet him!” We all need to focus when we are driving and even when we are walking. The internet is alive with illustrations of people walking into things when they are distracted.

When we toured Italy last year, the guide gave us a list of driving tips that started with this one: When entering a traffic circle, close your eyes … it makes merging much less terrifying. Also, drive with your knees. This leaves both hands free to hold a cell phone, a cigarette, and to gesture at other drivers. Of course, this really is no laughing matter, but I have to say we did observe these rules in common practice.

But, perhaps the days when we need to keep our hand on the wheel are ending. Self-driving cars are here. They will be operational this year. The car will literally go to your destination and even find a parking spot and park itself. This will certainly be interesting to watch.

What struck me this week was the contrast to the way fighter aircraft were flown just a few years ago and the dependence upon the pilot to fly the plane. I still love watching Top Gun. I have known several Top Gun pilots. These are very special people. They have to be a bit over the top to do what they do. At least, that was then. Perhaps not now. Here is a conversation snippet about just one difference:

“With a conventional fighter radar, the pilot must direct the radar beam to search in specific areas and he must command the radar to lock on to a detected target. In the F-22, the pilot does neither of these tasks. The radar is one contributor to a knowledge base of information about the air and ground space surrounding the Raptor. The radar is self-cueing and continuously searches all available space within its field of regard. It can also perform multiple tasks at one time such as searching and tracking multiple targets. The radar does this with no pilot interaction and inputs its findings to the core avionics which, in turn, sorts and sifts this information along with inputs from the other sensors to formulate a complete picture of enemy aircraft, friendly aircraft and ground threats in the vicinity of the Raptor.” (Excerpt from Top Gun script.)

I think you all know that the idea of firing at enemy aircraft using your hands is also outdated.

So, this leads me to a grand idea. Almost all great innovations in everyday life started out as technology first for the military. These ideas are proven out in environments demanding the utmost and eventually are simplified and cost reduced through mass production such that we can all afford them.

In past blogs, I talked about the Amazon Echo. Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, has the American household clearly in his sights. And Tesla’s visionary leader, Elon Musk, seems to have the power supply to these homes in his sights. Where are the big ideas? Where are the dreamers? I guess I still love Steve Jobs’ adage: “The future is only limited by the size of your ideas and the degree of your dedication.”

Ah, if I only had the money to play with all this that Robert Downey Jr had in Iron Man.

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