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Science Festival crawl offers interesting mix

HOUGHTON – Sizable crowds mixed spirits with science in downtown Houghton for the second annual Science Pub Crawl.

The night, part of the Keweenaw Science and Engineering Festival, included scientific lectures and demonstrations at the Downtowner Lounge, Continental Fire Co., Library Restaurant & Pub and Douglass House Saloon.

At the Douglass House Saloon – aka the Doghouse – Jeremy Bos, a Michigan Technological University assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering, discussed the upcoming future of autonomous cars. Google and Tesla already have semi-autonomous cars out, while BMW and Volvo have plans to release models soon.

Currently, there are about 5 million car crashes a year, causing 36,000 deaths and causing $871 billion nationwide. Self-driving cars could cut down on accidents, including drivers leaving the roadway and hitting an inanimate object, which Bos said is “far and away” the leading cause. That 36,000 is projected to decrease to 30,000 at a minimum, Bos said.

Due to the vehicle-to-vehicle communications systems in the case, they could also save 2 billion gallons of gas per year.

The future won’t come everywhere at once. For one, the technology for a safe, driverless car would currently add about $100,000 to the price of a car. And even when the price points come down, the technology works best in areas with fair weather.

“The last place, probably, to get driverless cars that are reliable is Houghton, Michigan,” Bos said.

Bos is working with the Keweenaw Research Center to find ways for autonomous vehicles to operate better in poor weather conditions.

The advent of self-driving cars also brings up a slew of legal, economic and ethical questions. Self-driving cars could drastically reduce the number of human drivers in long-haul trucking, which is one of the top employers in the continental U.S.

Uber, which has already disrupted the transit industry, would eventually like to disrupt its own workforce, moving to a fleet of self-driving cars.

Bos also walked the crowd through a series of ethical conundrums: Would they drive into a pedestrian, or into an embankment, risking their life? What if there were 10 people? (About 76 percent of people place that as the cutoff.) What if there were a child in the car?

“Would you purchase a car that had been programmed for the utilitarian approach, which is basically in the case of two people being in the roadway, you would perish?” Bos said.

Of the crowd of about 40, several had made it to all four stops. Bryan and Patti Milde of Atlantic Mine missed the “Mind Music Machine Lab” talk at the Downtowner, but attended the rest.

“We attended last year, and it was very fun, so we thought we’d come again,” Bryan Milde said. His favorite was Megan Frost’s program on cardiac plumbing at the Library.

“It’s a good program,” he said. “More people should take advantage of it.”

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