This weekend was fun living in the future.
My vehicle strategy is a bit off the norm, I have a tendency to buy new, well equipped and heavily warrantied vehicles near each other in time and then proceed to drive them for ten to twenty years. Our faithful companions are being retired, one going to number one son who has had his eye on it for years -(2000 Lincoln LS V8) and the other either being donated or sold to a needy family who is desperate for basic transportation (1998 Ford Expedition).
My F-150 crew cab is on order at the factory, but today’s treatise is about the Red Headed Irish Wisecracker’s new ride, the Explorer Platinum Edition.
I ended up with this one because it was:
- A: The color she wanted, exterior and interior (Smoky Quartz and Black Leather)
- We had rented a similarly equipped model for a one week vacation to the canyonlands of Oregon and she loved it as passenger and driver. She was able to handle eight hours in the seat without her sciatica and hip causing anguish, plus it was fast and handled well, even on desert roads.
- The dealer took my specs and made a deal for one on the lot with all I required plus a bunch more. A very good deal.
So this weekend, the new TKC Fleet addition got its trial run from Oregon to number one daughter’s place in Seattle, home of Grandchildren two through four.
Now, my buying pattern tends to have me miss first hand experience with the subtle tech innovations that have been added over the last seventeen years, so this was my maiden voyage with a vehicle I owned and had to master, as opposed to the rentals I had used where I was able to bypass and ignore the new tech in the vehicles since my acquaintance would be short.
So the realization dawned on me , after reading the manual, that every major system on the vehicle was not just monitored by the computer array, but was fully controllable by the computers. The only limit was some form of Asimov’s laws built in , probably at the behest of the legal department “Although the vehicle can steer and brake to avoid hitting a concrete wall, the driver must at least glance the brake pedal with a feather touch so the computer can save his worthless life.”
My first fun was the cruise control. Normally the run up I-5 on a weekend is an exercise in rain, boredom, highway load slowly increasing in density with really bad stop and go traffic at the end in Seattle. It is draining in that wet roads, less than perfect visibility and no cruising but constant attention to cars weaving in and out take their toll. You arrive tired and crotchety.
No more. With radar, front and rear cameras, and probably a sonar array and maybe telepathy, the car took your request to cruise at 75 as a suggestion and maintained the predefined separation from the moving vehicle in front. 150 miles of letting the autopilot keep you moving at traffic flow speeds, constantly adjusting the speed and watching for jackwagons who jump right in front of you. I hope the computer sent an electronic middle finger to the gumbah computer in the car that cut in. It was the most comfortable arrival ever for me.
The new addition vibrated the steering wheel if you drifted over the lane markers, was capable of parallel parking the car , only requiring you to hit the gas and change from drive to reverse, it steered, gauged distance and told you in very simple terms that your role was lever mover and pedal pusher, not driver.
Meanwhile , the voice command was stellar, even without a web connection. I have three Alexas and seven devices with Cortana and my wife has Siri on the lone Apple product in the house. I have been using speech recognition since the eighties and consider myself a reasonably experienced fella in making these devices work for my needs. Most of the conversation with the vehicle centered around navigation, interior climate and entertainment selections, but there is so much more potential.
I foresee a whole “How are you today” conversation going on , where your car whines a bit about their oxygen sensor being a bit slow on the uptake which gives them a queasy feeling in the fuel air mix. I expect them to drop hints about needing a new one for their birthday, or maybe their sweet sixteen maintenance cotillion.
Now I expect a lot of you younger folks will be shaking your heads at the old dude being impressed with this stuff which you have seen as you bought new cars every year or so.
Well it impressed the heck out of me. A few things dawned on me that you may take for granted.
The technology for driverless cars is there already with the exception of that pesky reliable AI to send the command in the unpredictable situations. All the other stuff in terms of complete sensor and computer control loops is a done deal and in thousands of vehicles on the road now.
- The role of the driver now is primarily to make the payments and occasionally be the meat robot to follow commands from the car’s brains.
- Oh yes, the driver still gets to pick the destination
- One more thing, the driver is also the final legal fall guy to blame when something goes wrong. Asimov’s new car robot rules:
- primary rule will be “A car will always make sure the human has legal liability in case something goes wrong”
- the secondary rule “A car will always try and keep the human alive to make the car payments.”
Happy Trails , folks, it’s going to be a fun, new and scary world, some good, some bad and some which one can perceive as wonderful if one is so inclined to appreciate wonder.