New years are all about reinvention, and although your waistline and weight may be the subject of only internal dialogue, auto technology is one of the most public ways we have of discussing what is important to us in terms of health, safety and responsibility and what needs to change. In order to further this discussion and combat (the mostly true) rumors that I am a raving Luddite, here are three new technologies that will be deployed or, at a minimum, fast-tracked for real world use.
(A car that can) choose your own ending
We have all known for some time that the intent of car manufacturers was to build a car that was smarter than their buying demographic, and although the job is growing easier, they show no sign of letting up the pressure (automatic windshield wipers, doing away with the pesky oil dipstick). In particular, this is manifesting itself in the appearance of “adaptive input” systems, which is more equivalent to instrument flying in a plane, and will see further incarnations in 2014 with V2I (vehicle to infrastructure) and V2V (vehicle to vehicle). Although accident survival is a plus, accident avoidance has some statistical leverage, even with the bureaucrats at the NHTSA. These platforms primarily allow for weather and road condition monitors, traffic signals, volume indicators to “talk” to one another and function in a holistic fashion. Though noble in theory, success in implementation rests on a great majority of vehicles actually having V2V/V2I technology running. This likely doesn’t include your child’s 1989 Honda Accord. While true deployment is years away, highway toll systems, intersection volume monitors, and those beloved traffic cameras you swear are “wrong” about when you ran the light are all being geared to integrate into wider networks designed to improve road safety and efficiency.
Not Anna Nicole’s augmentation
In a piece by Brandon Griggs, Ford’s senior technology Director Venkatesh Prasad claimed that “Cars are becoming platforms to participate in the digital world in a fully networked sense. It’s our job to take those computing services people are used to at 0 mph and make them available at 70 mph.” And if the idea of your son getting Facebook updates at 68 mph in your new Lincoln MKZ doesn’t frighten you, there is likely nothing that will. Ultimately, as GM, Daimler and Ford’s PR department admit—and Mercedes Benz's display at the Consumer Electronics Show this year proves—the development of adaptive technology is really just a forerunner to “augmented reality” and the ability of the car to layer data into a windshield showing you possible problems, or adjusting to those problems before entropy gets to do its job.
And when it’s not busy keeping you alive, it can help declutter your inbox. Already touted in TV shows like “White Collar” with Ford contracts featuring snazzy FBI agents driving Fusions, Lincolns and the like—and rescuing them from the catastrophes that lie in wait at every intersection and tunnel for you in New York City—these layers of data are not just intended to give you data but receive data from you in new ways. Primarily “gaze” directed, these windshields can “see” that your eyes are not on a particular object in the road and alert you to it in your current field of vision. These systems extend to braking for you in emergencies, as with Volvo’s much-touted 2008 “City Safety,” Subaru’s “EyeSight” response systems and Nissan’s “Autonomous Safety System.”
Though we all know the most fundamentally inefficient component (just check out this subsection with the NHTSA) in all this is the human element, which brings us to the dreaded driverless car. If the aim of the technology discussed above is to remove the risk of intuitive response, then the final solution is to remove intuition's driving factor: you and me.
Big mother: Orwellian driver’s ed
The one technology that will see deployment this year and has been approved, mandated and now signed off on by the White House is the 100 percent “black box,” or EDR (event data recorder) requirement. Your best friend in the event you are T-boned at an unmonitored intersection and the other driver claims you didn’t stop, it might not be so welcome when your insurance rates go up according to your driving behavior. Although some thought this was a Socialist fad in Europe, it is actually already in use here in the U.S. by some of the largest insurers, such as State Farm and Progressive.
But with the severe mercy of a capitalist market still driving these decisions (after all, if they don’t sell, they don’t stay), what are you or aren’t you willing to buy? Do you want more integration, social and technical, in your cabin when you drive? Do you think that we have evolved to the point where we can now handle more stimulus, not less, in the cabin, and how should this be reflected in legislation (since we now penalize using the phone, texting or inattention in many states)?
I’d love to hear what you want from your car in 2013.
And here's to a happy, healthy and safe new year!
Hannah L. Coffey is an ASE tech and divides her already-fractured time between teaching at UTC and working/writing about Subarus, Volvos and diesel Mercedes power trains. You can grill her about the latest quirk of your aging machine, what [she thinks] you should buy or whatever else strikes your fancy on her blog or by email. When in doubt, you should always seek the advice of a certified mechanic in your area. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.