From pizza delivery to movie stunts, tech is changing everything

This column published as "A Brave New World" in August 2019 issue.

David Matthews / August 01, 2019
David Matthews
Autonomous vehicles are being developed to deliver everything from packages to pizza, but one small detail has proven to be surprisingly difficult to perfect.

If there is no human in the vehicle, then how does the delivery get from the vehicle to the door?

Ford believes it has the solution to this “last-mile delivery” issue, and its name is Digit.

Digit is a two-legged robot developed by Agility Robotics in Oregon that can lift and carry packages weighing up to 40 lb. The 5-ft-tall robot can walk up and down stairs, detect and avoid obstacles, walk naturally through uneven terrain, and remains unfazed by aggressive pets.

Digit also gets assistance from its delivery vehicle, which is equipped with advanced sensors that can create a detailed map of the surrounding area and tell Digit the best pathway to the front door. 

Once Digit has successfully navigated around your kids’ toys and the pothole in your driveway to deliver your package, it can fold itself up into the back of the delivery vehicle for a quick ride to the next house. 

Ford is still finishing the final iteration of Digit, and then hopes to begin the first phase of testing next year, so don’t worry about a modern day version of “War of the Worlds” playing out in your driveway just yet.

 

MOVIE MAGIC

Movie car stunts have come a long way since Burt Reynolds jumped his Pontiac Trans Am over the Mulberry Bridge in Smokey and the Bandit 40 years ago. 

While today’s modern vehicles offer huge improvements in performance and power, they also come with safety systems that make stunt driving harder than ever.

A new exhibit called “Hollywood Dream Machines: Vehicles of Science Fiction and Fantasy” opened at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles this May, featuring dozens of famous cars featured in well-known movies.

On opening night, a panel of Hollywood’s most celebrated film producers, movie car designers, and coordinators discussed the challenges of forcing modern vehicles to do unsafe things.

“These cars are made to do everything that’s not a car stunt,” said Dennis McCarthy, a Motion Picture Car Coordinator for Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and several Fast & Furious films. 

Another car coordinator, Josh Hancock, revealed that the production of 2017’s Baby Driver had to fly a technician in from Germany just to make a Mercedes S-Class slide around and crash through a fence without shutting itself off.

McCarthy explained how he’s learned from experience that when a car company sends a new vehicle to a movie set for a stunt, it’s important to request that a computer programmer accompany it to finesse its safety features.

“With modern cars, you pull a headlight bulb out, the car won’t run,” he joked.

“Hollywood Dream Machines” is the largest museum exhibition of sci-fi vehicles in the world, and runs until March 2020.

 

SOCIAL JUSTICE

If you’re driving near Durham, North Carolina, and see a grey Ford Focus with a large dent in its back bumper and a license plate reading “STAYUMBL,” watch out. 

Despite the unpretentious car and the reassuring tag, the woman behind the wheel is one of the most aggressive, dangerous drivers around.

Fifty-year-old Diana Taije Mems has gained internet notoriety for her treacherous driving. Dozens of social media posts have detailed encounters with STAYUMBL, many accusing her of trying to force rear-end collisions.   

With the help of these posts, the state stepped up their efforts to get Mems to STAYOFFTHEROAD. 

After an incident in April where Mems pulled in front of a school bus and allegedly slammed her brakes, the District Attorney obtained an indictment against her.

After Mems turned down a plea deal that would have resulted in probation, her license was temporarily suspended, and she was put on electronic monitoring. 

In what might be the most frightening detail of this story, Mems said that she turned down the plea deal because she would have lost her license for good, which she needs because she drives large trucks and heavy machinery for a living!

About the Author

Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news since 2000. The stories are all true.

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