Friday, February 7, 2014

Fear And Loathing From Detroit (And Bavaria, And Turin, And Honshu, And Seoul)

Saw a cable news item about "cars that talk to each other" to avoid collisions.

According to the report, airbags have reduced accident fatalities by 20%.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration believes that cars that can talk to each other will reduce traffic deaths by another 80%.  That would take them down from 1.08 deaths per million vehicle-miles-traveled to 0.22.  Which, I suppose, is about as close to zero as we'll get.

If that's an excessive claim, its a very impressive claim, and the report said the NHTSA wants the technology in showrooms for the 2024 model year.  The report showed aerial video of a Ford test involving lots of cars (more than 10, less than 100) interacting with each other and lane-defining cones on a giant skid pad.

In addition to anti-lock brakes and stability assist, with which we're all familiar, the new technology will alert drivers that they are about to change lanes into the potential path of another vehicle, or are approaching one in their lane too fast (adaptive cruise control), or if they are about to back into something.  The alert is an audio warning tone, doubtless an annoying one, supplemented (in some cases) by vibrating the driver's seat.  In some systems, the car "takes over" and makes its own avoidance maneuvers.

Some of these features have already appeared on high-end cars, with the manufacturers touting how safe and secure they make you feel.  "Forgot to check your mirror or your blind-spot?  Not to worry, our car does it for you and will alert you when you're about to screw up."  Great: the inattentiveness for which American drivers are already noted is reinforced.  The data is stored and uploadable (as speed, yaw, acceleration, and braking now are).  For, as one cable panelist pointed out, criminal prosecution or tort litigation.

Currently, most supercars have stability control that can be partially to fully disabled when the driver wants to have fun.  I wonder if future affordable cars with sporting pretensions will allow the driver to do the same, and to override whatever the on-board computer says is a safe distance and closing speed?  If so, that feature will no doubt find its way into the after-incident upload and lawsuit discovery.

The era of the highway Nanny State is upon us.  And here's Dr. Jennifer Healey of Intel, telling us how much we'll love this Brave New World:

This looks like Phase One of progress toward the goal of a self-driving car, which I'd bet Dr. Healey would like even better.  Maybe she should go to work for Google.  (And here's my rant about that):

In the driving enthusiast corner of the world, prices of cars with No Box On Board are gonna go up some more.  "Classics: they're not just for nostalgia any more."  Now, if the NHTSA would just insist on programming code that moves left lane bandits into the right lane when a No Box On Board car approaches rapidly from behind...

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