Robot Cars Are Already Here

2014 Acura MDX Interior
2014 Acura MDX Interior

The robot cars aren’t coming. They’re already here.

Google Robotic Car
Google Robotic Car (courtesy Google)

I’m not talking about Google’s robotic car that is already in the testing phase. Or the fact that some states are looking to change various laws to pave the way for cars that will safely and securely move you along with artificial intelligence.

I have no doubt that one day we’ll see fully robotic cars, but what people don’t realize is that many new cars are already using artificial intelligence to gently take control and guide their passengers to safety.

We adapted to the concept of cruise control years ago. Now we have adaptive cruise control. Plenty of new cars have systems designed to monitor the distance between you and the car ahead. Get too close and the computer slows you down. It’s pretty cool, but it’s just a beginning.

Volvo's Pedestrian Alert System
Volvo’s Pedestrian Alert System

The same technology is getting ramped into avoidance control systems. If anything suddenly becomes a potential impediment to progress, the car slows down. It could be a truck or a pedestrian. I’ve driven cars that use this, and it’s an interesting sensation when the car suddenly starts to slow down. I didn’t always agree the threat was that great, but the car erred on the side of caution.

Mercedes driver alert
Mercedes Knows When You Need a Little Caffeine

And that’s just the beginning. Mercedes has a button on the instrument panel that looks like a coffee cup. The car senses when you’re starting to weave and questions whether you’re awake enough to be driving. It’s basically suggesting that you need a coffee stop (how long before Starbucks buys a little product placement?). The great part is that you can find similar technology on cars ranging from Chevrolet to Subaru. Some work better than others, but it’s ultimately an invisible robotic intelligence gently nudging you back in your lane keep you safe.

Siemens Parallel Parking system
More and More Cars Can Parallel Park By Themselves (courtesy Siemens)

Are you one of those who barely passed your driving test because you had a hard time parallel parking? Cars can do that automatically as well. At first it was only the expensive luxury stuff, but now the technology is working its way down to the masses. You’ll pay extra for the privilege of having the car robotically park itself, but think of the embarrassment it will save on your next date or business meeting. Instead of having to explain your inadequacies, you’ll leave your companion marveling at the automotive future you’re already driving.

Driving enthusiasts cringe at the thought of technology taking control. Many of them have yet to adapt to the concept of automatic transmissions. Still, I have no doubt that more than a few over-enthusiastic enthusiasts who stretched beyond their driving abilities have been saved by computerized traction control or anti-lock brakes. Robots to the rescue.

Volvo's City Safey System
Volvo’s City Safety System Could Save Lives

Technology has created more driving distractions than most people can handle. Texting while driving is a teen crisis, but even using the GPS on your smart phone is a distraction that can lead to deadly consequences. Fortunately, technology has already created solutions. I have no doubt that some automotive designer has something in his head that will save even more lives.

So before you rail against the concept of driverless cars and how they can’t possibly measure up to human standards, understand that many of the new cars on the road around you already have bits a pieces of that artificial intelligence. And that sometimes the human standard isn’t so great.


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