JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: The news recently has been full of the story of the self-driving Uber from Arizona that got into an accident, causing the company to suspend its self-driving tests in that state. (I'm using the term 'self-driving' a lot because apparently these vehicles do have drivers inside that can engage when necessary.) I have to note the responding cops seem to agree it wasn't the wonder car of the future that was at fault: it was another old-fashioned human driver who screwed up, crashing into the Uber vehicle.
I for one welcome our new robotic overlords. I would have given anything for a self-driving car back in the days when I was attempting to navigate a station wagon around town while settling backseat arguments, rescuing sippy cups that had rolled beneath the passenger seat, and operating the CD player controls so we could hear "The Wheels on the Bus" for the 1,000,000,000th time. Nowadays, driving isn't that stressful, but it is, unless I'm doing something cool and fun like whipping up and down and around the roads in the Berkshires, boring. Really boring. I'd be more than happy to turn over the controls to HAL9000 if it meant I could lounge back reading a book and nibbling on Girl Scout cookies on my way to the credit union.
I can also envision self-driving cars being super useful in the future - and by 'future' I mean 'when I'm in my eighties.' In a rural state like Maine, elderly residents have major problems if they have to give up driving. Rather than worrying about imposing on my daughter to fetch and carry for me, I like the idea of having my own robotic chauffeur driving me around after my vision and short-range memory goes. I'll call it Tom Branson and pretend I'm the Dowager Countess of Grantham (to be strictly honest, I'm planning on spending my old age pretending to be Granny Crawley anyway.)
In the vein of helpful automatons, I got to thinking what else would improve my life.
1. Nuclear-powered mangle. Sure, the washing machine and dryer have liberated us (and by us I mean women, because let's face it, how many men do you know who do laundry when there's a woman around to do it for them? Not that I'm bitter) and wash-and-wear means the iron is usually gathering dust, but where is the mechanical marvel that can fold clothes? Do you keep the clean clothing in a laundry basket and just pick stuff out of it? You do, don't you. Wouldn't it be great if you could toss it all into a hopper and it came out looking like it does from the dry cleaner's? It would. It really would.
2. Mecha-facial. Perhaps life's cruelest trick is this: as you reach the age when you absolutely need to spend at least fifteen minutes every night cleaning, moisturizing, sanding and spackling your face if you don't want to look like a desert wadi in the dry season, you begin to find yourself with Sudden Onset Bedtime Syndrome. SOBS is the sensation you get just after you've streamed last night's episode of Legion and are getting ready for RuPaul's Drag Race. In an instant, every source of energy in your body has been quenched. As your teenagers stare at you with ill-disguised scorn, you drag your body upstairs, barely manage to drag a toothbrush around your gums, and then fall into bed. The only moisturizer you're going to get when SOBS strikes is whatever you drool onto your cheek.
Wouldn't it be lovely if, as you lay sprawled on your back, a useful machine hovered over your visage, pummeling, kneading and exfoliating while you drifted away into dreamland? (Warning: you will dream that the alien from Alien is sucking your face. But is that too much to pay for glowing, youthful skin?)
3. Self-walking dogs. Don't get me wrong, I love being outside with my Shih Tzu on a beautiful October day. Or in the spring, with the clouds all puffy over head, or on a warm summer morning. When it's seven degrees out? Blizzarding? Pouring rain? Not so much. I dunno, maybe the Japanese have the right idea with their robot pets. Enjoy the wiggling behind without every having to worry about what's going to come out of it. Speaking of which...
4. Self-cleaning bathrooms. I believe this one is within modern architecture's grasp. All it would take is a bathroom where everything is tile, glass and non-porous stone, doors and windows that shut watertight like those in bulkhead, and a giant drain in the middle. You go out, lock the door, turn on the combination steam/boiling water/bleach and before you say Bob's your uncle, the place is spotless. Admittedly, the TP and shampoo bottles in the shower are going to be worse for the wear. On the other hand, you'd never have to wash towels or facecloths again.
5. Self-shoveling driveways. If we can have self-driving cars, why not snowblowers? How pleasant it would be to stand inside and guide the machine with one hand on the controls, the other holding your hot cocoa. Or for rough or uneven terrain, paired flying drones supporting a snow-melting laser cannon. Yes, I am sick of winter! Thanks for asking!
How about you, dear readers? What do you think ought to be automated to make our lives easier?