Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 8, 2013

A Jetsons life in the near future?

by JAMIE PARSELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — The Jetsons had it all. Flying saucers, robotic maids and a life filled with leisure. As a child, the lifestyles of the Jetsons seemed out of reach, almost impossible. Set in year 2062 in a futuristic utopia — 100 years in the future based on the time of the show’s debut in 1962 — the family lived whimsically among aliens, robots and holograms. It made for a good cartoon. In an article by Time Magazine in 1962, editors said the series was “silly and unpretentious, corny and clever, now and then quite funny.” In the ’60s, technology was still being made in garages across the country. The whole concept of a modern futuristic lifestyle confused many who watched the Jetsons. However, it didn’t stop us — even children in the ’80s watching the reruns — to ponder about the future and wonder if we would one day fly to work.

I drove to work today. And no one has created a robotic maid so I have a to-do list for the weekend. Most of us work five days a week, maybe more. (Did you know George Jetson only went to work an hour a day, two days a week?) Of course, there are plenty of modern conveniences; technology gurus invent a new device or app every day. But we have still not caught up to George Jetson’s leisurely lifestyle. However, we are a lot closer. Major car companies announced that self-driving cars could be on the road by 2020. That is only seven years. According to an Associated Press article, automakers, universities and others are at various stages in the development of autonomous cars. The article states, “Google is testing some in California. General Motors recently announced that its ‘Super Cruise’ system, which uses radar and cameras to steer and stop a car, could be on Cadillacs by the end of this decade. And Nissan has boldly promised that it will have an autonomous driving system by 2020.”

The research company Navigant Research estimates it will be at least 2035 before vehicles will be able to drive themselves. There is a lot more research and development to do to make sure cars can mimic drivers’ as they scan for traffic, determine rates of speed and more. One thing I didn’t realize was that states must authorize testing of automated cars. West Virginia and Virginia are not one of three, only Nevada, Florida and California. Another interesting speed bump is that state law requires a licensed driver at the wheel. Insurance companies would have to determine fault if a self-driving vehicle crashes. Plus, how would a highway incorporate cars with and without drivers?

I shudder to think of passing automatic cars on some of the curvy roads of the two Virginias. Our roads are cut out of mountains and hug numerous small coal towns. We share daily commutes with coal trucks, school buses, Department of Highway vehicles and more. As commuters, we drive in rain and heavy snow, under the hot sun and starry skies. Sometimes technology is overwhelming, especially in this case. I know I am a part of a generation of 30-somethings who love their iPhones, tablets and social media accounts. But I am not eager for a Jetson’s lifestyle. I would rather keep two hands on the wheel than let a computer navigate Route 52 in the winter. Give me robot maid? Maybe. I hate  washing windows. A car with a computer that could potentially be hacked? No thanks. In the upcoming Pride edition for the newspaper, I did a lot of research on the roads in our area. The two Virginias are known for curvy roads that dip, twist and turn up mountains and down valleys. I want to be in control of my journey, from home to work and all around the surrounding areas. I don’t know what the future holds but I am pretty sure I will have both hands on the wheel.

Jamie Parsell is the Lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at jparsell@bdtonline.com or on Twitter @BDTParsell.