Massive Record-Breaking Heat Wave Reveals How AI Self-Driving Cars Could Provide Some Cooling Relief

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How hot is it?

That’s the kind of question that you probably don’t want to be asked when you are broiling in the existing heatwave that has engulfed much of the country. This latest mega-heat scorcher is said to be the worst of its kind since this century began.

There is the old familiar line that it is hot enough to fry an egg on the street.

Turns out this is usually a false claim since the required temps need to be about 140 to 158 degrees Fahrenheit to apparently fry an egg (per news reports), and rarely does the pavement or street particularly rise to that esteemed temperature. But in some locales, such as the Las Vegas area, there are current reports that the asphalt is supposedly a sizzling 170 degrees Fahrenheit.

Get those eggs ready if you’d like some street-cooked grub.

When it gets this hot, most people smartly opt to try and remain inside and avoid going outside if at all possible. By staying inside, you presumably have some semblance of shade and hopefully, also have cooling fans or its equivalent to keep you cool.

Stepping outside can be a shock. A blast of hot searing air can confront you. Taking a walk is not only a sweltering activity, it can be dangerous to your health. Hospitals are indicating that there is a rising tide of people suffering from heatstroke. In addition, many go for a walk and find themselves suddenly collapsing from acute dehydration.

Please be careful out there.

There is an added twist that you might not be thinking about, and for which until you live in such hot temperatures you might not intuitively realize is an additional endangering factor.

It is this: Everyday objects outdoors that we might tend to touch or handle are red hot too.

There isn’t necessarily any signal or sign of this consideration. You just need to keep it in your own mind and be cautious accordingly.

For example, opening a car door can be a surprisingly dangerous task. If the car has been parked outdoors and directly in the blazing sunlight, the door handles can be extremely hot. Really, really hot. So hot that you can burn the skin of your hand when trying to simply open the car door.

Sad to say that there are burn victims that end up in the hospital from the mere act of trying to use their car. Besides the door handles, there are other parts of the car that you might normally touch and that can be equally hazardous when heated up. This might surprise you that even the seatbelt can be a burner, namely if there is a metallic portion that is used to buckle the seat (usually this is the case).

People unknowingly and by normal habit reach up to pull the seatbelt across them and then snap it into the buckle, finding themselves suddenly with a severe palm or hand burn from this innocuous activity. It is at that moment that you become suspicious of everything inside the vehicle as a potential source of bruising heat. Steering wheels are usually coated with a material that is less likely to absorb the heat, so that might be touchable for driving purposes. Knobs and switches are probably tolerable.

Those that live or frequent the hottest areas seem to grow accustomed to these insidious heat-scorching traps. Some try using their foot to pry open the car door or wear gloves or use their shirt to cover their hand as they do so. You can see these contortionist attempts when the temps get searing hot. For those that perchance have a car that provides an automatic door opening feature, they relish the capability during these blistering times.

Using your car in lieu of walking to someplace certainly seems sensible during a heatwave.

That is, as long as your car itself does not serve as some form of heated peril. The interior air that has been trapped inside a parked car can be scorching too. People immediately open all the windows of the vehicle to vent out the hot air. The downside is that if the outside air is quite hot, you are not necessarily gaining that much in terms of somehow transferring cooler air into the vehicle (but still worth trying).

We most likely relish our car at these times for the most wonderful of inventions known to mankind, consisting of air conditioning. You can travel to a destination and bask in the refreshingly cool air that the vehicle provides to you via the air conditioner. Admittedly, some people decidedly go for a ride around town solely to make use of the air conditioning inside their car. Their house or apartment potentially lacks air conditioning and so they opt to use their car for a moment of respite from the heat.

If you use ridesharing or ride-hailing service during these hot days, the odds are that the driver has already cranked up the air conditioning and made sure that the vehicle is cool inside. The driver might also warn you about touching the door handles and the seatbelt buckle. In some cases, the driver could potentially get out of the car to open the car door for you or assist in buckling the seatbelt, perhaps being more adept at avoiding getting burned in the process.

Depending upon where you are going while on a ridesharing journey, there is an additional consideration about where you will be dropped off upon reaching your desired destination.

Here’s the deal.

The ridesharing driver notices that there are some delivery vans in front of the office building that you were going to be dropped off at. This essentially blocks the ridesharing car from being able to park there and let you out. Thus, the driver stops further down the block and tells you that you can get out of the car now.

If this is in a spot without any shade, you can find yourself suddenly baking in the heat. Also, the walking distance from that point to the office building might be onerous. Sure, it could be only a half-block away, yet in this kind of stifling weather, it is like a grueling marathon of walking.

An astute ridesharing driver will try to find the best spot to do a drop-off, including being as close as possible to your desired destination and accommodate any potential shade or similar protection from the heat and the sun.

On a semi-related topic, people sometimes don’t realize that they can get a bad sunburn while inside an air-conditioned car. Though the interior of the vehicle might be refreshingly cool, the rays of the sun can be nonetheless beaming into the vehicle. A passenger seated in the front is bound to get more sun rays due to being directly under the windshield and having the side windows as added exposure. Passengers in the backseat can get scorched via sun rays coming into the side windows. Of course, the driver can get sunburned too.

To try and combat this sunburn possibility, some cars have special shades or other materials to cover the windows and try to reduce the power of the sun. This is especially important if you have a baby in a backseat carriage that would otherwise have no direct means of warning you about a sunburn underway. Meanwhile, adults might opt to apply suntan lotion to themselves if they are taking a long driving journey or possibly cover up by wearing sun resilient clothing.

You probably hadn’t been thinking about all these facets of using a car while in extremely hot weather.

This is not particularly at top of most minds. Until you find yourself in these mega-heat wave situations, the odds are that you won’t be contemplating ways that a car can be both useful to avoid the heat and yet at the same time be a potential threat due to the heat.

Speaking of cars, the future of cars consists of AI-based true self-driving cars.

Allow me a moment to elaborate.

There isn’t a human driver involved in a true self-driving car. Keep in mind that true self-driving cars are driven via an AI driving system. There isn’t a need for a human driver at the wheel, and nor is there a provision for a human to drive the vehicle. For my extensive and ongoing coverage of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) and especially self-driving cars, see the link here.

Here’s an intriguing question that is worth pondering: How might AI-based true self-driving cars be of particular help to us when massive heat waves occur?

Before jumping into the details, I’d like to further clarify what is meant when I refer to true self-driving cars.

Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars

As a clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.

These driverless vehicles are considered Level 4 and Level 5 (see my explanation at this link here), while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).

There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.

Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some contend, see my coverage at this link here).

Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).

For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.

You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.

Self-Driving Cars And Coping With Heat Waves

For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.

All occupants will be passengers.

The AI is doing the driving.

One aspect to immediately discuss entails the fact that the AI involved in today’s AI driving systems is not sentient. In other words, the AI is altogether a collective of computer-based programming and algorithms, and most assuredly not able to reason in the same manner that humans can.

Why this added emphasis about the AI not being sentient?

Because I want to underscore that when discussing the role of the AI driving system, I am not ascribing human qualities to the AI. Please be aware that there is an ongoing and dangerous tendency these days to anthropomorphize AI. In essence, people are assigning human-like sentience to today’s AI, despite the undeniable and inarguable fact that no such AI exists as yet.

With that clarification, you can envision that the AI driving system won’t natively somehow “know” about the facets of driving. Driving and all that it entails will need to be programmed as part of the hardware and software of the self-driving car.

Let’s dive into the myriad of aspects that come to play on this topic.

First, it is believed by many pundits that self-driving cars will be a lot less costly to use than human-driven cars. The notion is that the price per mile that you might be paying to use a human-driven ridesharing vehicle is going to be substantially lower if you use a self-driving car instead. A key part of this lowered cost is that there is no labor required to drive the autonomous vehicle.

For the sake of society, it is presumed that we might be heading toward a mobility-for-all era. Those that today cannot afford to use a car for transit will now be able to do so. The assumption too is that there will be gobs and gobs of self-driving cars roaming all around, being available at a moment’s notice to provide a requested ride.

Here’s how this ties to the heatwave topic.

Imagine that someone is in their home and they lack any semblance of cooling capabilities. They don’t have air conditioning in their house or apartment. The inside of their home has gotten super-heated due to the overwhelming heat wave taking place. They are becoming anxious at the heat and can feel that they are starting to succumb to it.

One possibility of providing temporary relief would be to send them a self-driving car as a form of refrigerator on wheels, as it were.

The self-driving car is dispatched to the person’s home. The autonomous vehicle has automatically engaged the air conditioning inside the vehicle to ensure that the interior is pleasingly cool. Upon reaching the home, the person comes out and gets into the self-driving car.

Self-driving cars will likely be outfitted with Natural Language Processing (NLP), akin to the likes of today’s Alexa or Siri. As such, the AI driving system might emit a message to the passenger to forewarn them about the door handles as possibly being hot to handle, and likewise to be mindful of any interior items that might be overly hot.

Designers of self-driving cars are also likely to have a feature enabling the AI driving system to automatically open the doors of the vehicle. This would be handy in the case of a heatwave. A passenger would not need to touch the door handles and instead the AI system would open and close the car doors as needed for the rider.

In conventional cars of today, there is a windshield and numerous car windows, all of which generally are required for purposes of allowing the driver to see the roadway. Self-driving cars will be equipped with video cameras, radar, LIDAR, ultrasonic units, thermal imagining devices, and the like. These will effectively act as the eyes and ears of the AI driving system.

Thus, there isn’t any need for a windshield and nor for the windows of the car. They can be replaced with a shell and you would be riding somewhat inside a bubble. Various futuristic car designs showcase this type of structure.

It seems a bit unlikely that people will necessarily be desirous of riding inside a shell. The odds are that at least for some time ahead, passengers will still relish looking out the windows of the vehicle. A counterargument is that this would still be feasible with the shell structure, doing so by using the outside mounted video cameras and having the images streamed onto the interior surface of the shell. In a manner of speaking, you would be “looking” outside, though you are seeing the streaming camera images instead of being able to directly peer out a window.

In any case, the windows of a self-driving car are bound to have the capability to automatically switch from being transparent to suddenly being opaque. You can ask the AI driving system to let you see directly out the windows and the windows will be made visibly clear. You can tell the AI driving system that you want some privacy and the glass will be shifted into an opaque mode. Various efforts are underway to devise windows of this nature. Even if the windows cannot do this directly, there could be shades or similar coverings that would be operable via a human passenger or by the AI driving system.

All of that discussion highlights that the notion of getting sunburned while on a riding journey could potentially be averted via a properly provisioned self-driving car.

The AI driving system would also hopefully be programmed to cope with the drop-off problem that was earlier mentioned. Specifically, upon reaching the desired destination, the AI driving system should try to find the best feasible spot to drop off a passenger. This would include the aspects of being closest to the destination along with the need for shade or another protective cover at the arrival point.

Conclusion

At first glance, it would seem somewhat outlandish to think that people might go for rides in a self-driving car solely for purposes of getting out of the heat. Well, if the cost to use a self-driving car is as low as some believe it will be, this might make the self-driving car an alluring aid in the dire circumstances of a heatwave.

Another angle would simply be that people could more readily get transported to a location that does offer some sustaining cooler conditions.

For example, the government sets up a local site that has plenty of air conditioning and cool water, being available as an emergency center for those that otherwise have housing that is not bearable in the heat. It is handy to have such a place to go, but the question oftentimes arises as to the logistics and cost of getting people to the center (and, later on, providing a lift back home once the heat subsides).

Imagine a fleet of self-driving cars that are sent out to go pick up the people that wish to use the center. Unlike human-driven cars, there is no need to coordinate amongst all the drivers that would be needed for such a large-scale task. You merely schedule online the self-driving cars to go to the designated homes to pick up people and bring them to the center.

In a similar vein, suppose you have a loved one that lives in a heatwave locale. They are suffering from the heat and their home does not have sufficient cooling. You might ask them to drive to you and stay at your place. Perhaps they aren’t comfortable at the wheel anymore or lack a driver’s license, see my discussion at this link here.

You can send them a self-driving car to come to pick them up and bring them to your locale.

In theory, this could be only across town or could be across entire states and even across the whole country.

Here’s why.

The expectation is that self-driving cars will allow us to travel greater distances than we customarily do today. With a human-driven car, the driver needs to take breaks, they can get tired and should not be at the wheel while groggy, etc. The AI driving system can drive essentially non-stop, going 24 x 7 as needed (excluding aspects such as refueling, maintenance, and the like).

You can use a self-driving car to take a rather lengthy driving journey. Many proposed designs suggest that the interior seats will be reclinable and allow riders to take a snooze. That long trip from point A to point B can be done while you are sleeping. You get into the self-driving car in the evening, it drives all night long, and in the morning you arrive at your destination, refreshed after traveling possibly many hundreds of miles.

Not all though is quite so rosy about the use of self-driving cars during a heatwave.

Let’s consider one potential downside.

A prevailing assumption is that most self-driving cars will be EVs (electrical vehicles). This makes sense for numerous reasons. Where the catch comes in would be that the self-driving cars will need to be charged up and this usually will be done at an electrical charging station. Some locales are at times having electrical blackouts when the heat waves strike. This is partially due to the heightened use of electricity by people running air conditioning units and assorted cooling devices in their homes and offices, consuming boosted levels of electricity when a heatwave strikes.

The point is that if self-driving cars were especially avidly being used as an aid during heat waves, they would be another gobbling source of consuming electricity. This begs the question of whether enough electrical generating capacity would exist to accommodate self-driving cars being used in the fashion described herein.

There might be a need to restrict the use of self-driving cars. Envision that self-driving cars had to be placed onto a priority list as to whether they can fully charge up or not. This would be a thorny choice of potentially idling the self-driving cars versus ensuring that there was sufficient electricity to power people’s homes and businesses.

A vexing choice, that’s for sure.

All of this will need to be worked out as the advent of self-driving cars gradually takes place.

We do have some time available. You should not be expecting self-driving cars will just magically start appearing overnight. The emergence of self-driving cars will take many decades to become pervasive, given that we today have about 275 million conventional cars and those aren’t going to be summarily junked or dumped just because self-driving cars become viable.

We can look forward to the day that self-driving cars become widespread, and for which the catchphrase might be that to beat the heat, make sure to use an AI-based true self-driving car.

A cool idea.

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