Freedom on the Water: Not Living In An Autonomous World

January 2018 Feature Brady L. Kay


This article originally appeared in our 2016 Fall issue. If you are interested in seeing more stories like this, click HERE to subscribe. 

During a recent media event hosted by Honda Marine, Senior Vice President Scott Conner got a little off-topic after briefly covering all that Honda has to offer. From lawn mowers and side-by-sides to cars and even jet airplanes, when Honda says it offers a Dream Garage worth of products they’re not kidding. I think it was when Conner began to talk about ASIMO, the world's most advanced humanoid robot that is the culmination of two decades of research by Honda engineers, that he veered a little off course and started talking about autonomous cars.

It’s a little scary still for me and my old-school way of thinking to fully grasp the fact that autonomous cars, AKA driverless, self-driving or robotic cars, are coming soon to our highways. I shouldn’t be too surprised; after all, Hollywood has been predicting this for years in movies so maybe instead I should just be a little disappointed that I’ve yet to see a flying DeLorean.

So why am I little turned off by autonomous cars? Maybe it’s because we already live in a world where when an airplane takes off, the government knows who is onboard, where exactly we’re going, as well as a lot of private information about each and every one of us. I’m not complaining, because this is a good thing from a safety standpoint. I’m just saying flying commercially today is a lot different than it used to be.

Back in college I flew to Florida for Spring Break on an unused plane ticket that was originally purchased for my friend’s sister Christine. Without of course being able to show a driver’s license, I just explained to the airline agent that I go by Chris and they let me on the plane, no further questions asked. Good luck trying that today; without proper identification you’re not flying anywhere.

So with robotic cars in our future where our path to a specific destination is planned out for us as well as airlines in full control of where and when we fly, where can we go for our freedom to be spontaneous? The water, of course!

Water is becoming our new freedom territory where boaters can still go to be free. Sure, you still need to obey the law and use good judgment when boating, but as far as I know there is no one tracking me when I sit behind the helm.     

While autonomous cars can detect surroundings using a variety of techniques such as radar, lidar, GPS, odometry and computer vision, I’m completely satisfied with putting the throttle down myself and steering my boat in the direction I want to go. I know they have vehicles today that are capable of sensing their environment and navigating without human input, and if that’s where we need to head as an auto industry, I’ll accept that. But as a passionate boater I hope I never see a day where my pontoon has a control system that is capable of analyzing sensory data to distinguish between different types of boats on the water so it can properly navigate me to my favorite fishing hole. For those who disagree you’ve probably never taken a drive just to drive or a cruise across the lake with no pre-planned destination or time frame in mind. It’s this freedom that I hope we never lose, both on the roads and on the water, because that’s what makes life so great. If you’re still trying to decide if now is the time to buy your first or even your next pontoon or deck boat, understand you’re buying more than just a boat. You’re buying your freedom to truly be yourself.  


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