Driving you automagically

October 10th, 2005 | by ian |

We’ve been car shopping lately since the 1995 Passat is starting to be less reliable than ever (which is saying a lot) and doesn’t cut it for travelling to the country with a dog or going to ultimate tournaments with a bunch of teammates and lots of gear. Storage and mileage are important, but one of the most important requirements is for it to be a manual transmission. It has gotta be stickshift or we don’t want to drive it.

Which brings me to my interesting story of the day: the DARPA autonomous vehicle challenge won by a heavily modified Volkswagen Touareg SUV with half a dozen backseat driving computers and not a human in sight.

Twenty three competitors set out on the 212km race and while only 5 finished, keep in mind that last year not a single contender made it past 5% of the course. The winning team from Stanford managed a time of about 7 hours averaging 30km/hour. Not bad for desert conditions.

So what does this mean for the future? Well we are already seeing cars that can park themselves (parallel park no less) and others that can almost drive themselves in highway conditions. Expect more of the automated technologies from assisted driving to more advanced “second guess” features which act to to prevent humans from doing things the computer thinks are illogical.

Although I am enthused about the technological success I’m concerned about the commerical applications. More excuses to pay even less attention to the road rather than measures that will save lives. Instead we should make it harder to get (and keep) a driving licence – from my experience it is an enormously small proportion of drivers who are the source of most of the danger on the roads. I may be wrong, perhaps the data exists in accident/insurance records out there to disprove this notion of mine.

Additionally parallel parking is fun, and for sheer control of a vehicule they’ll have to pry the manual stickshift from my unconscious/expired grip before I will relinquish it. As for being driven places “automagically” I’ll stick to public transportation for now.

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