I love the look of Smart Cars. Seriously, who wouldn’t want one of these cutie-patootie little vehicles. Every time I see one, it fills me with at least a little bit of joy. And when I pass one parked – and there are a few in my neighborhood – I always look in and smile.
Of course, I would never actually take one out and use it on a highway – not even an itty-bitty, kiddie car of a highway like Storrow Drive. And for the neighborhood runabout errands, well, most of them can be accomplished with a walkabout. Or with a Zipcar.
But they do so make me smile.
There are, however, Smart Cars (which are fundamentally Cute Cars), and then there are really smart cars.
You know, the ones that won’t just parallel park themselves, but will drive themselves. You’ll just speak your destination, and they’ll take you there, dodging in and out of traffic, sensing (and avoiding danger), sensing (and grabbing) parking spots.
As someone who actually likes to drive, there are so many ways in which I’m not looking forward to a world in which you don’t have to have any smarts whatsoever in order to operate a vehicle. (I know, I know. The barrier to entry for car drivership is pretty darned low, and there are an awful lot of terribly dumb drivers out there. Still, you do have to know how to put the key in the ignition, step on the break, and turn on the radio.)
But I sure do hope that the really smart cars get here before not-so-smart cars become souped up, four-wheeled search engines, as was promised at the recent Computer Electronics Show. (Source: CNN.)
Imagine a future in which icons flash on your car windshield, hologram style, as your car approaches restaurants, stores, historic landmarks or the homes of friends.
Gosh, I can imagine that future, and it’s one in which drivers are even more distracted (and, thus, dangerous) than your average phone-caller and texter.
Can’t we live without knowing at the very exact moment when the question enters our bee-bee brain exactly when the Salt and Pepper Bridge was built?
Oh, but who wants to focus on boring old driving – where you have to pay attention to boring stuff like how many car lengths the guy in front of you is, and whether someone’s trying to pass you on the right while you’re trying to move over a lane. Bo-ring.
Simply point your hand at them, and the icons open to show real-time information: when that bridge over there was built, what band is playing at that nightclub on the left, whether that new café up the street has any tables available. Wave your hand again, and you've made a restaurant reservation.
And who cares about all that duller than dull stuff like signaling, as long as you can find out who’s “playing at the nightclub on the left.” (Probable answer: Crash Test Dummies.)
“Gesture is very intuitive. It's very natural," said Vera Schmidt, a user-interface designer with Mercedes who led demonstrations of the technology. "You point at something, and you want to know more about it."
So true. Because you won’t always have someone with an iPhone in the seat next to you who can google it up for you, and by the time you get home you may not remember that you had such a burning need to know whether the Crash Test Dummies still exist.
Anyway, all this peachy-keen technology isn’t quite here yet. Nonetheless:
Many automotive designers here seem to have taken inspiration from smartphones, with their promise of being always connected and their vast menu of apps for every purpose.
"Cars are becoming platforms to participate in the digital world in a fully networked sense, just like your tablets can and your phones can," said Venkatesh Prasad, a senior technical leader with Ford Motor Co.'s innovation division. "It's our job to take those computing services people are used to at 0 mph and make them available at 70 mph."
Is it possible that Venkatesh Presad actually made this statement without adding a follow on: “And, of course, it’s our job to make them as safely available at 70 mph as they are at 0 mph.”
Cars will also be seeing to our health and welfare, and one day soon may:
…help diabetic drivers by employing wireless sensors to monitor their glucose levels…or help allergy sufferers by monitoring for high-pollen areas, then recirculating air within the vehicle instead of pulling it in from the outside.
I’m all for good health, but it sure looks like the day is coming when we will have absolutely no agency whatsoever over ourselves.
"We're working on a new generation of vehicles that truly serve as digital companions," said Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, in a keynote speech at CES. "They learn your habits, adapt to your choices, predict you moves and interact with your social network."
There’s something to look forward to.