In the mid to latter parts of the 20th century, there was much talk and even conceptualized action in the direction of automobile technology that, to many, seemed more like science-fiction than anything in the realm of possibilities. That trend hasn’t gone away as it’s still rabidly prevalent today in modern automotive design. A couple of those concepts delve into the such ideas as autonomous drive and even driver override. At the risk of sounding ‘anti-tech’ – which I am not – I’m presenting with this blog post, just a few of my own perceptions and pre-conceptions of automobile tech that takes control out of the hands of drivers.
There are a lot of alluring features and benefits to autonomous driving cars. Here’s the simple run-down: You’ve slept late, have a short time to get to work and you’re still groggy. No time to get or make coffee – A nap on the way in would be nice, especially if you’re having trouble keeping your eyes open. Of course, you’re now a potential rolling disaster on the road. Who, at this point, wouldn’t love to be able to just push a button and let the car, with it’s pre-programmed route, transport you safely to work while you catch a few extra Zs? Sounds great, heck I love the idea. However, I still have, in the back of my mind, a nagging feeling that at some point those critical control systems could and would eventually fail in some capacity.
There goes that nap.
Of course, multiple redundant safety measures would inevitably be implemented for just such occasions, but somehow that’s little consolation for the scenarios I can imagine. Take, for example, navigational systems that work on GPS systems. We have already seen instances where GPS has led drivers with full control of their vehicles off of bridges, cliffs, elevated free / expressways under construction, roads that ‘T’ off at the beach and other such nightmares. Sure, those drivers may not have been the smartest of daily automobile ‘operators’, and there aren’t an epidemic of said cases, nevertheless those cases remain. Then there are conceptualizations of magnetic roads and vehicles proprietorially designed to use those magnets to keep vehicles aligned and on the road, all while constantly monitoring distances to other vehicles, obstacles on the road, vehicle speed etc. etc. etc. Paired with GPS navigation, this could be a type of redundant safety feature to autonomous autos. But what if ‘the grid’ goes down – even temporarily? Those systems that keep intervals between cars and such would be lost – possibly and more likely than not – at a critical point in the journey.
It’s not hard to imagine even worse-case scenarios than autonomous vehicles with the idea of driver override systems. We’re talking about vehicles that, as an example, apply the brakes when it senses that you’re too close to the car in front of you. Perhaps it may even swerve to avoid what it perceives to be an imminent collision, or not allow you to accelerate over the speed limit. Probably the last thing I want to happen while I’m driving is for my vehicle to wrest control away from me. And what if I have an emergency situation where I need to get to the hospital fast but my car refuses to go over the speed limit on the way to the trauma unit or the delivery room?
‘Far-fetched’ is a term I expect many will conjure as they read these potential threats to tech advances in the automotive industry. We’re capable of amazing things in our world these days. Technology is rapidly accelerating and things that most people would have never thought possible are already out there, in our world and giving us freedoms that we never had before. As long as we’re steadfastly dedicated to safety and retaining the freedoms that we enjoy as drivers, I see technology as a very, very good thing. However, some things (such as control of your vehicle), may be best served if it remains in the hands of the human and not the technology.