For the GEEK in you

Friday, October 06, 2006


So VW has come up with a self driving GTI. Those zany Germans have even named it the '53+1' - in homage to that other famous self-motivated German.

The concept is quite straightforward: the steering, brakes and DSG gearbox are linked to a central electronic brain, while sensors on the outer edge 'read' the surroundings and look for obstacles (kerbs, road markings, etc.). It can't exactly zip out onto the highway and start chasing down bad guys ala Knight Industries' finest: presently, the car can only work on predefined routes without other traffic to bother it.

It really is quite a sight to see: the car first 'sniffs' out the road, travelling at very low speeds studying the course. Once it's figured out where it's going - all hell breaks loose. The onboard system can then implement the fastest line around the track while wringing the bejesus out of the potent 150mph Golf. It's probably faster than most human drivers can manage: while we have insides to keep from venturing out for a looksee, the cold blooded automaton can drive on its doorhandles, pulling absurdly high gs.

Here's where Dubai comes in. When you mention 'traffic accident' here, most people's eyes glaze over, haunted by that matt black Range hanging an inch off their bumper trying to give them a proctology exam. In reality, most of the day-to-day accidents are of the non fatal variety, caused by tired and/or distracted drivers failing to provide that last second of attention before the almighty shunt. These are the accidents which cause innumerable traffic snarlups and waste the time of millions, while keeping our doctors happy dispensing blood pressure pills.

Now doesn't the Golf seem a good idea? Before the enthusiasts start decrying Big Brother - let's think about it rationally for a second. Who really enjoys driving on the highways? Or the cities, for that matter? Wouldn't it be great if all the cars were able to communicate with each other, traffic flowing along in perfect lock-step? Want to change a lane, dip your indicator: the adjacent car would slow down right smartly and let you in, because a computer doesn't have ego. Tap your destination into your sat nav, kick back with your Buddha Bar CD and chat on your cellphone to your heart's content: everything's being taken care of.

Of course, the big part about owning a car is the personal freedom it affords you. Most people will grumble about being denied the liberty to choose the best possible route, or the simple joy of driving. I'm an enthusiast, but most people simply aren't interesting in driving ecstasy - they want to get from A to B, where sometimes A & B aren't reachable by public transport. So this solution would work for most people - get in - engage drive - get there - get out. If you live for the fiddly joy of piloting your cruise missile, have a killswitch which returns control, or designate certain roads human driver only. Somehow, I have a feeling there won't be that much demand for the latter.

This is Automotive Enlightenment, and it's coming faster than we think. The sooner drivers get on board and start intelligently engaging the issues which trap us in hours of traffic daily, the sooner we'll all have less to complain about.


Blogger Prometheus said...

Prometheus is torn in two. The tech freak in him drools over the autopilot, but the car freak thinks driving would then become lousier than NFS. It'd be like a real fancy personal bus. All ya do is sit. Prometheus' gotta go freak out a bit more.

6:17 AM  
Blogger moryarti said...

If you run a quick search on YouTube, you should find the Self parking BMW. Now, thats something i'd like to see more off here because of the effing moron that can't parallel park without scraping all the four corner of his car and the ones font and behind his!

11:32 PM  

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