Trillions Of Cicada Aiming To Bugout The Northeastern USA And Spur Swarmageddon Messiness For AI Self-Driving Cars

They are hiding underground and have been growing and maturing, getting ready for their grand unveiling that takes place just for a few weeks, doing so every 17 years. You might say they are akin to eager teenagers waiting to get their moment in the sun and party until they drop.

And there are trillions of them.

Yes, the incredible swarmageddon entailing possibly trillions of cicada bugs are soon to be emerging and do so with a great deal of fervor and fanfare. These young adults don’t have much time once they burrow out of the dirt. They are pressed by nature to do their mating rituals and meanwhile get ready for their demise. In a near blink of an eye lifecycle, these red-eyed buggy creatures will seek to produce their offspring in just a couple of weeks, die off, and their progeny or brood will fall to the ground and in term mature, while buried, earnestly arising in yet another 17 years passage of time.

Where is this going to happen?

You can count around fifteen states in the northeastern part of the country as subject to the burst of cicada activity, including Indiana, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, Tennessee, Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, and similarly situated locales.

The official name given to all of this is the Brood X generation (wherein this is the roman numeral standing for ten) or ostensibly referred to as The Great Eastern Brood.

Whether you feel lucky and fortunate to live in a place that will witness the Brood X is entirely up to individual preferences. There are many that loath the emergence of the cicada and would just as soon that things were Brood 0 (that’s a big fat zero).

The good news is that the cicada is relatively harmless and is primarily an annoyance rather than something to be dreaded as a dire pest. They don’t sting. They don’t bite. They don’t scratch. They don’t emit poison. All told, they might seem creepy (that’s for darned sure) and you are bound to react with abject dismay at their presence, though you won’t be especially harmed.

There is though the noise.

They make quite a racket, especially when there are millions nearby you and they are desperately and blaringly producing their mating calls. At around 105 decibels, they can collectively sound like an approaching train. Some liken the noise to the sounds you’d encounter while being in a crowded nightclub or bar, which is kind of a handy comparison but also seems a bit off base since at least you are having a good time and drinking while in your local tavern (not something you are advised to try while amidst a swarm of the cicada).

Most of the time, the cicada do not want to be near humans anyway. They want to be in the trees. By being in the trees, they are able to perform the mating ritual and attract their perfect mates. Thus, usually what happens is the cicada comes out of the ground, climb up nearby trees, and remains pretty much in the trees.

This would seem relatively fine if those clever creatures weren’t also able to fly. Because they can somewhat fly, they are able to get from tree to tree. This in turn means that it is feasible for them to swarm. I think we can all agree that there is nothing more sinister and frightening to humans than seeing large clouds of bugs that are flitting and flying back and forth. It is assuredly a common theme in movies and TV shows that try to scare the heck out of us all.

These aren’t though the same as flying locusts. The cicada really just wants to find a tree and have some fun. They aren’t especially interested in flying great distances or otherwise doing things that a swarm might do when it is tasked with special deeds to be performed. Romance in the trees is their true mantra and anything else is undertaken for that enthusiastic purpose.

This is all done as a race against death. They will nearly all be deceased by around the end of June, depending upon when they came out of the ground (it’s about a three to four weeks lifetime).

Speaking of death, the cicada face quite a gauntlet of ways to die. Possums are filled to the brim when they get a chance like this to dine wantonly on these crunchy bugs. Raccoons are also eagerly at the dinner table to consume the delicious cicada. I must tell you that cats will eat cicada too, which if you have a beloved pet feline would maybe seem disgusting to see, so keep that potential ghastly spectacle in mind if you let your cat roam outside during this upcoming Brood X season.

Theories abound about the cicada and one viewpoint is that part of the reason there are so many of them that will emerge, and doing so at roughly the same time, sparks a semblance of survivability. By having gobs and gobs of them darting all about, the odds are that their predators won’t be able to eat them all. The probability is that enough or certainly some of the bugs will last long enough to complete the mating aspects and generate the next generation.

You see, there does seem to be credence to the old saying that there is safety in numbers.

Speaking of safety, you might be wondering what would happen if you perchance were in your car and came upon a sizable portion of the Brood X.

In the past, people have complained that the cicada comes into their cars via the open windows of their cars. Not wanting to seem overly critical, but it does seem patently obvious that flying cicada might inadvertently end up in your car if you allow this to happen. Realize that the cicada doesn’t particularly want to be inside your car. They likely would just as soon get out of your car.

In any case, people inside a car are apt to freak out when they find themselves bunking with a cicada. The freaking out is mainly done by the passengers, but drivers can readily go into freak-out mode too.

I mention this aspect due to the twofold concern about what could happen if cicada got inside your moving vehicle. First and foremost, the driver might go nuts and become inattentive to the roadway, including potentially swerving the car while trying to swat the bugs. That’s bad. Second, passengers in the vehicle might also go nuts, possibly alarming the driver. That’s bad, once again. The most sedate of drivers might not care about the bugs, but if they have human passengers that are going berserk, it could very well disrupt the driver and lead to an unfortunate car accident that didn’t have to happen.

The point is that if you do somehow drive to wherever the Brood X might be, and if some of them perchance get into your vehicle (because you had the windows rolled down, and not because they somehow could sneak their way in), the onus is on you, the humans, to be cool. Remember that these bugs aren’t going to hurt you. Stay relaxed and find a means to help shoo them out of the car. I know this seems like a sensible way to approach the matter, meanwhile in the heat of the moment it is hard to remain calm and collected.

Dare I suggest that if some cicada does get into your car, it might be prudent to find a safe spot to pull over, try to herd out the ones that got in, and give yourself a chance to catch your breath before continuing your driving journey. Oh, and please roll up the windows.

Can the cicada impact your car in other ways?

Yes, they can, primarily due to the volume of them and that they can fly.

You could end up driving into a swarm and they will splatter all over your windshield.


The thing is, if you get enough of them becoming bug guts and bug juice on your windshield, it might be very hard to see the roadway. It makes sense to check beforehand that your windshield wiper blades are in good shape and that you have plenty of windshield wiper fluid ready to be used. Nonetheless, the stickiness and glue-like substance of their smashed innards still might not get completely erased by wiper blades alone and you’ll need to by hand do something to clean off the glass.

There is also a chance that the bugs can clog your radiator grill. Besides looking unsightly, the bigger danger is that your car might not get the engine ventilation needed to keep your car running properly. An overheated and damaged engine that was caused by the mass demise of cicada is not the type of writeup you want when filing a car insurance claim.

The primary concern is of course that the cicada could disturb your ability to drive a car due to clouding up the windshield or obscuring what is up ahead on the roadway past the swarm that you are encountering. Those are all key safety issues and deal with the act of driving.

One supposes you can also be concerned about other matters such as the paint job on your car. These bugs are especially acidic, and they can do some harm to your paint, though mainly if their deceased carcasses and leftover bits and pieces are not soon washed off from the exterior of your car. You are unlikely to get immediate paint damage and it is more likely that if the bug guts remain for any lengthy time, then the paint will suffer accordingly.

Do not though be thinking about the paint on your car when you should be thinking about the traffic on the roadway whilst immersed in a swarm of the cicada. Staying alive at the wheel is paramount in comparison to any fancy paint job.

All told, human drivers need to keep their wits about them when coming upon the Brood X.

Make sure to keep your windshield highly visible and pay close attention to the road. Do not be watching that fascinating cloud of cicada and inadvertently veer into another lane and crash into another car. Keep the rapt cicada watching for when you are no longer behind the wheel and can resolutely and safely relish watching these bugs.

Furthermore, be on the watch for other drivers that do get distracted by the Brood X. Those other drivers are a by far larger danger for you than are the bugs themselves. People do stupid things in these kinds of circumstances. Some dolt might decide to try and ram the cicada or take driving actions to avoid running into them, doing so at the peril of other nearby drivers and pedestrians.

You would think that since the Brood X will only be around for a few weeks that therefore those human drivers and passengers could ready themselves and be perfectly relaxed and prepared for the buggy onslaught.

I sincerely hope so.

Shifting gears, consider that the future of cars entails the advent of self-driving cars. Self-driving cars are going to be using AI-based driving systems and there won’t be a human driver at the wheel (see my extensive coverage of self-driving cars at this link here).

Here is an intriguing question: How would AI-based true self-driving cars cope with the emergence of the cicada and this so-called swamageddon?

Let’s unpack the matter and see.

Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars

As a clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.

These driverless vehicles are considered Level 4 and Level 5 (see my explanation at this link here), while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).

There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.

Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some contend, see my coverage at this link here).

Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).

For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.

You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.

Self-Driving Cars And Brood X

For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.

All occupants will be passengers.

The AI is doing the driving.

One aspect to immediately discuss entails the fact that the AI involved in today’s AI driving systems is not sentient. In other words, the AI is altogether a collective of computer-based programming and algorithms, and most assuredly not able to reason in the same manner that humans can (see my explanation at this link here).

Why this added emphasis about the AI not being sentient?

Because I want to underscore that when discussing the role of the AI driving system, I am not ascribing human qualities to the AI. Please be aware that there is an ongoing and dangerous tendency these days to anthropomorphize AI. In essence, people are assigning human-like sentience to today’s AI, despite the undeniable and inarguable fact that no such AI exists as yet.

With that clarification, you can envision that the AI driving system won’t natively somehow “know” about those swarming cicada. This is an aspect that needs to be programmed as part of the hardware and software of the self-driving car.

Let’s dive into the myriad of aspects that come to play on this topic.

We’ll start with the aspect that the AI driving system will not freak out akin to how human drivers might go a bit nutty in this swarmageddon encounter. The AI is not going to go into some kind of emotional roller coaster about the massing bugs or otherwise get excited or upset about the swarms. This is somewhat reassuring that we can excise out of the equation any qualms that we might have about human drivers that lose their minds due to the Brood X, for which the AI won’t suffer.

One thing though to keep in mind is that self-driving cars are likely to be driving nearby human-driven cars, something that will be happening for many decades to come. Some pundits have a crazy Utopian idea that overnight there will be a sudden switchover to all and only self-driving cars, but that’s just plainly not going to happen. You can expect that there will be a mixture of human-driven cars and self-driving cars on our roadways.

That’s a fact.

I bring this up because self-driving cars are going to still need to deal with the foibles of human drivers that are in traffic nearby to the self-driving cars. If a self-driving car enters into a swarm of cicada, and meanwhile a human-driven car is doing the same thing at the same place and time, the AI driving system needs to cope with the potential antics of the human driver that might readily and unexpectedly veer errantly or do something stupid in reaction to the swarm.

Of course, we would expect a well-devised AI driving system to always be on alert for the antics of nearby human-driven cars. This seems like the standard table stakes to be proffering an autonomous vehicle and avidly playing in the self-driving game, as it were.

At the same time, it makes sense to have the AI driving system be especially on high alert when the situational factors make the probability of human-driven antics heightened. There is the normal everyday check-and-balance about what human drivers will do. There should also be a provision for the acts of human drivers in settings that we can all reasonably anticipate that a human driver will potentially go haywire and make brash or unbridled driving moves.

Okay, so we might agree that the AI driving system does not necessarily need to be programmed to cope with the swarms, though it ought to be detecting the swarms and be computationally ready for the potential of nearby human drivers to do bad driving.

There are plenty of additional facets for the AI driving system and the self-driving car that are vital in these matters.

For example, I had earlier mentioned that the windshields of cars could become blotted and obscured by the bug guts, which would be highly dangerous for human drivers because they would no longer adequately see the roadway. In the case of the AI driving system, we don’t especially need to be worried about the windshield.

What we do need to be worried about are the numerous sensors and sensory devices that are on the self-driving car. There are likely video cameras, radar, LIDAR, ultrasonic units, thermal imagining, and other elements of the sensory suite. Those need to be unobstructed. They are the proverbial eyes and ears of the AI driving system.

Thus, in the same complication of bugs splattering on the windshield being bad for human drivers, the bugs splattering on the numerous sensors are bad for the AI driving system. The sensors might be unable to properly detect the driving scene. The data being collected is either confounded or noisy. When the AI attempts to mathematically analyze the data, there will be difficulties in finding what objects exist outside the car. In addition, it might be difficult to figure out where those objects are, their speeds, their direction of travel, etc.

In brief, the sensors could get mired in the muck and therefore the AI driving system is now blind about what the driving scene consists of.

This is not a problem that is solely unique to the Brood X. Any kind of swarming bugs could produce the same result. Even everyday grime and the occasional bug hitting could create problems for the sensors in terms of clarity about detection. I’ve written previously about the multitude of proposed and being tried out solutions to the sensor cleaning aspects (see my column for coverage). There are tiny wiper blades, there are jets that spray out special liquids, and so on.

Anyway, the point is that a self-driving car can find itself caught in the morass of a bug swarm and end up with sensors that are no longer able to sufficiently detect the road. Presumably, the AI software would ascertain that the sensors aren’t performing properly and that the vehicle should be safely brought to a halt.

That seems like the prudent thing to do.

On the other hand, imagine passengers inside the self-driving car that are fearful about the cicada (I’m not saying they are justified in their fear, only that they are indeed afraid). You can imagine the angst and frustration of the passengers when the AI driving system summarily declares that it is pulling over and coming to a stop. In the minds of the passengers, this might seem like the worst of choices. Rather than driving through the swarm and popping out of it, the self-driving car is going to sit right in the middle of the swarm.

I’m sure that the passengers would invoke an in-car capability of calling up a remote agent of the fleet operator and proffer a word or two about their dissatisfaction. They might entirely be in the wrong and the AI driving system is in the right, it is just that the passengers might not think so.

Furthermore, they might claim or insist that if a human driver was at the wheel, perhaps the driving would continue (rightly or wrongly so).


You can bet that some people are going to intentionally take a drive to go see the cicada. They want to see the spectacle. Perhaps some will bring their youngsters and emphasize that the next time they’ll see the Brood X will be when the next generation appears in seventeen years hence.

That would be the year 2038.

Where will we with the advent of self-driving cars when the year 2038 rolls around?

Many believe that we will by then have widely adopted self-driving cars. They will be pervasive. If that is so, just envision that your children of today opt to go see the cicada, telling the AI driving system to take them there. While on that journey, those now adults will tell any youngsters on board about the time that they took a human-driven car to go see the prior brood.

Those kids will shake their heads in disbelief. What a silly way to travel when you can just let the AI do the driving.

Maybe even the cicada that arises out of the ground in 2038 will look around and notice that there is a slew of self-driving cars in their midst.

I’d bet the cicada will be thinking, well, by gosh, it’s about time.

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