Uber’s news suggests my dystopia has nearly arrived

March 12, 2018

Chuck Robinson


Recently a friend said she had committed herself to watch the Mad Max movies in search of whatever meaning was woven in their dystopian plotlines.

There were three original Mad Max films, the first one in 1979. There was a reboot of the franchise in 2015. Mad Max was a bad-ass loner seeking revenge in a world where war had caused society to collapse and there are critical resource shortages.

Shortages, maybe, but everyone was able to wear S and M leather, and there must have been blow dryers and hair product available, from what I recall.

“You’re thinking too much,” I told my friend. I don’t think there is that much under the surface.

Yet this many years later I wonder if a lot of us relate to the badass loner Mad Max, except for the leather and hair. And this dystopian future is murkier and closer at hand than in the original movies.

Uber in dystopia

Uber Technologies has a role in the dystopian future lurking in the dark recesses of my brain. On March 6, Uber announced its self-driving Class 8 trucks had been carrying commercial freight on Arizona highways for the past few months.

The New York Times and the news website The Verge have reports on it.

San Francisco-based Uber’s autonomous trucks drive the long-haul route to a hub where conventional trucks with humans steering and braking take the freight the final miles to a customer’s loading dock.

Uber, through New York Times, says it is working out of two primary transfer hubs in Arizona. One is in Sanders, Ariz., which is near the New Mexico border, and the other in Topock, Ariz., near the California border. Uber has not reported how many trucks, how many miles, or how many times the human safety drivers in the autonomous trucks have had to intervene.

We recognize autonomous vehicles are looming, and Land Line Staff Writer Tyson Fisher has been on top of it, writing several articles including this one and this one. Still, in one breath it seemed it was theory and the future, and in the next breath, it seems like it is upon us.

Trucks-only highways

Not to complicate the plot of the movie in my mind too much, but that’s not all.

Uber Technologies
This array seems to help steer Uber’s self-driving Class 8 truck. (Courtesy Uber Technologies)

Human truck drivers and the computers in control of self-driving trucks have a grievance in common: the crazy drivers of four-wheelers.

Dealing with four-wheelers seems to be where human drivers have the advantage.

So in February, the Georgia Department of Transportation announced plans for a 40-mile, trucks-only highway on which no cars would be allowed. Two trucks-only lanes would parallel I-75, from Macon, Ga., to an Atlanta suburb, McDonough, Ga. They would be northbound, and barriers would keep cars out.

“Hallelujah,” I thought, and I bet #REAL truck drivers said the same out loud when they heard about it.

Traffic in Atlanta is notoriously bad. It is home of “Spaghetti Junction,” where Interstates 285 and 85 North intersect, the most congested freight bottleneck in the nation, according to research conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute. So trucks-only roads make perfect sense.

If self-driving trucks could vote on the idea (and since corporations are considered people, can that be far off), they would be unanimous in favor of trucks-only roads.

One day, maybe only self-driving trucks.

No, that is not far-fetched at all. In fact, Wisconsin highway officials are considering installing traffic lanes for self-driving trucks on the shoulders of I-94 south from Milwaukee, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The lanes would be for self-driving trucks serving the Foxconn Technology Group factory to be built in Mount Pleasant, Wis. The state is seeking funding to test the route for autonomous trucks as part of its application for $246 million in federal grant money to help pay for an overall I-94 project.

Mad Max wishes his ride was this cool

At least in my dystopian future we at least might have a cool ride. You may get a glimpse of it in May. That’s when the StarShip Project takes off from California for a

The StarShip Project
The StarShip Project, created by Newington, Conn.-based AirFlow Truck Co., is a highly fuel-efficient Class 8 truck with sleek aerodynamic lines. (Courtesy AirFlow Truck Co.)

cross-country road test ending in Florida.

The StarShip Project, created by Newington, Conn.-based AirFlow Truck Co., is a highly fuel-efficient Class 8 truck with sleek aerodynamic lines and an advanced engine and drive train. It will be delivering material for a new reef installation off the coast of Florida.

So my dystopian future has self-driving trucks on roads dedicated to only self-driving trucks, but the trucks are going to look cool. I thought I might not be alive to see such a reality, but as fast as things are moving I might actually be around to witness it. That puts the onus on us. We are Mad Max. We have to do something about it.