Driving an Audi A7 and armed with as much technology that he could ever want to use, David Brancaccio made it his mission to travel across the country without human contact.
His journey from the East Coast to West Coast is chronicled in Automobile Magazine. He writes that he took on this endeavor to find out "if technology has become so pervasive that a person could drive across the United States, Atlantic to Pacific, dealing only with machines, no humans."
The car provided for the trip -- an Audi A7 -- is the first step to "[sealing] myself into a cocoon of technology," he writes. The $78,680 vehicle features a wireless hotspot, a color driver-information panel, and sensors that evaluate other drivers' actions around it, among other high-tech gadgets and functions.
Here are a few of the interesting human-free things that helped Brancaccio avoid human contact:
- He was equipped with several GPS systems, including his phone, his iPad, one embedded in the Audi and a TomTom (that has the voice of his wife recorded).
- He kept a microwave in the back of the car so he could use self-checkout lanes and make his meals without a trip to a restaurant or a visit by a delivery person.
- Hyatt hotels had kiosks that let travelers check-in and out, allowing him to avoid a hotel clerk. He found out later Hyatt is removing these kiosks because less than 2 percent of people use them. He also visited a Westin with a similar kiosk situation.
- Self-service pumping stations keep him fueled up. He does have a beef with the argument that these stations' "purpose" is to allow human clerks to help customers in other ways though. He calls it a "service-eradication device."
- The Pinball Hall of Fame provides him with some downtime without an entry fee to pay and change machine so he can play without needing a human to give him coins.
- EZ Pass lets him fly through tolls. He does learn the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge does not accept EZ pass and will be paying a penalty for zooming through its FasTrak lane without the appropriate payment gadget.
What lessons did Brancaccio learn from trying to only use technology on his trip?
- Bring more than three beers. You can't buy alcohol from a self-checkout without having the monitoring cashier come check your ID.
- Getting bills smaller than a $20 is difficult.
- You can't eat at Rendezvous in Memphis, which he describes as "one of the great barbecue places on earth."
- He spends more time looking at his navigation systems than he does the countryside he is passing through.
On day six, Brancaccio "takes stock" of his trip. Here's what writes:
Among the successes, I've been able to transact all my business with machines alone. On the other hand, there was the tragedy of insufficient beer supply. And I must admit that there have been some run-ins with F&Bs (flesh and bloods). When I tried to scan an ear of corn in Virginia, the human overlord of the self-checkout section descended on me in full customer-service glory. And checking in with a robot receptionist in Oklahoma City around midnight, I could not dodge the Wizard of Oz. The night manager, by the name of Oz, had recognized my name from the computer, knew my work, and wanted to shake my hand. What could I do, hand him a slip of paper saying "sorry, I no longer speak with my fans"?
In the end, Brancaccio finds "man cannot live by technology alone." He sits himself down at a beach bar on the Pacific coast and has a drink on Barry, "the first human I would hang with in six days, my flesh-and-blood California pal."
Watch Brancaccio's interview with CNN about his trip:
Read Brancaccio's full story on Automobile Magazine here.