The following is commentary by editor Myles Kornblatt
The next generation of cars will likely kill some of our next generation of drivers. I am sure of this thanks to a demonstration by Ford.
All of the car companies are developing technology that allows cars to talk to each other. Similar to a wifi signal, the cars of the future will be able to locally broadcast all of their pertinent information such as GPS position, speed, rate of acceleration/deceleration, if brakes are being applied, and other data. The signal is uniform, so cars of all makes can talk to each other. This allows all the cars to create their own virtual grid that can detect a possible collision.
Ford happened to give this demonstration by running journalists thought a driving course at full speed. There were other cars running around, but all were hidden by obstacles. In each case the cars detected each other and alerted the driver before anyone could make visual confirmation.
This is all great, right? Well almost…
Those of us who already know how to drive know to constantly scan our surroundings, so having the car do it, too, is a great help. But what about those who will first learn to drive in this era of truly smart cars?
A few years after this technology is standard in all vehicles drivers will begin to assume that the car will do the accident avoidance. All of us will get a little lazier about our safety habits. I’m willing to bet that while the experienced drivers will only be on auto pilot occasionally, the new drivers may put their lives solely in the car’s hands.
This is not a problem ignored by the automakers. Ford specifically mentioned during its tech demonstration that it was working on ideas to retrofit the car communication system into older models. The problem is that to modify these older models takes an active plan by the automakers, the government, and each vehicle owner.
How often do you take your car in for a recall? Can cars that pre-date the microchip support this technology? How many classic car owners will let the dealer turn a wrench on their pride and joy? Do you think everyone will want what is basically a black box in their cars? (most don’t know they already have one.)
Questions like these mean there will certainly be a gap between cars with the communications technology and the old ones that keep the info to themselves. So, this creates a situation where the statistically least responsible and most irritate drivers (i.e. teenagers) will be relying heavily on computer intervention for accident prevention. Also, it is likely the heavier and less responsive cars (i.e. classics) that will not be communicating with the automobile grid.
Like ammonia and bleach, this is a recipe for disaster that most people know to avoid but still occasionally happens. And just like that chemical mixture, this car communication cocktail seems just as deadly.
I am convinced that this new technology is worthwhile and necessary. I also know there will be some tragic results with people caught in the gap.