April 15

1912 — The Titanic Strikes an Iceberg



Literally, a PR nightmare of Titanic proportions.

Arnie Kimball was furious.  He’d been publicizing the event for months, building excitement — first with a mysterious billboard on I-95 (“Never Crash Again”); followed by teaser TV-spots, the car in shadow outline, the caption “Who Is Driving?” as the tagline; and concurrent social media posts with slogans like “Go Ahead, Sleep at the Wheel,” and the intentionally controversial “Drink and Drive and Stay Alive.”

Each of the media spots listed a date for the unveiling of his company’s new product.  A demonstration of the Sensor 3000, the world’s most sophisticated, self-driving car.

Just Arnie’s luck that apocalypse would strike from the skies on the crucial day of his carefully planned stunt.

Well, not exactly apocalypse, though a lot of people died on the west coast.  The freak hailstorm threw down heavy shards and spheres of ice, with massive property damage and significant human casualties.

This morning, the Director wanted to cancel the roll-out.  “Seems a little insensitive, don’t you think?”

“People need a distraction,” Arnie had argued back.  “Technology triumphs over the elements.  That’s a good message to reinforce during this time of sorrow.”

“Won’t have much of a crowd, if the storm’s headed this way.”

“We’ll film with stationary and drone cameras, as we planned.  Our larger audience will be online, anyway.”

“True,” his boss said.  “And fewer cars on the road, making the test drive safer.”

Arnie had sighed then.  He was confident in his product, and wished their company’s director felt the same.  “This will actually be the perfect showcase for the Sensor 3000’s most-advanced capabilities.  It can drive in the worst possible storm.”

Your boss hesitated.  If he approved a successful demonstration, he’d take all the credit.  If something went wrong, he’d have Arnie’s head.

But nothing could possibly go wrong.  The Sensor 3000 was an uncrashable car.

At 1:00 pm eastern time, the test began along I-95, the interstate mostly empty due to storm panic.  Arnie made one concession to the director’s safety concerns, removing the human driver from the car.  Their most experienced operator steered the vehicle remotely, assisted by onboard navigation equipment and video feeds from various drone cameras.

The idea was to begin on a straight stretch of highway, then turn off onto a city exit to demonstrate the car’s decision-making during complex downtown driving.

So far, the coverage was excellent.  Streaming live on countless sites, and the story picked up on all significant cable news channels.  The storm angle actually added a level of interest Arnie hadn’t anticipated.  And the storm was cutting close.

“Exit 52,” Arnie said to the operator.  A simple reprogramming, and the Sensor 3000 switched lanes and veered into the exit ramp.  It wasn’t like driving at all.  Anybody could do it.

Some of the drone footage got a bit fuzzy, but the car moved easily down deserted city streets, obeying speed limits, waiting at red lights, turning smooth corners.

No spectators waited at the side of the road.  New weather alerts, including flash storm warnings, scared them all away.

Some of the major stations cut away from your car’s progress, to follow the progress of the storm.  You relied on your own footage, but the drone images became distorted with static.

Not static, but sheets of rain and heavy ice.

Arnie checked the televised weather map, and advised the car’s remote driver to make an abrupt turn, away from the coming storm.  On the TV networks, an alert scroll warned about sudden drops of large hailstones, in concentrated areas.

The drone images were almost entirely obstructed.  The sound came though clear, however.

“What was that?” Arnie demanded.

The technician looked up from his control device.  “Didn’t you see?  That huge cluster of hailstones, all in one place.  I couldn’t help it.”

Impossible.  Literally, a PR nightmare of Titanic proportions.  Your miracle car was driving on land, and still managed to hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage.