November 20, 2017

Automotive Breakdown . . . by Denny Mandeville

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In all your life have you ever seen the government be proactive? Try as I might, I can’t remember anything I would call proactive in the domestic field. Well new technology has some, in government, actually being proactive- although the term “proactive” is not quite right. California and Nevada have laws and regulations on the books concerning autonomous automobiles, and other states are scrambling to copy the regulations as autonomous cars start to loom closer on the horizon. We are not talking the “slot car” autonomy of Popular Mechanics magazine from the 50-60’s, we’re talking no driver in the car. An actual human will not be required to be in charge. That means all those texting, putting on makeup, reading the morning news while driving, drivers will no longer be the menace we dreaded. Or if you are one of them- be a menace to us. Text to your heart’s content while applying makeup as you speed along the highway.

Indeed, Audi is far enough along in its technology an Audi TTS drove the challenging 12.4 mile Pikes Peak climb in 27 minutes WITHOUT a human in the car. This was not a remotely controlled auto, but a completely autonomously driven car.

In 2012 Audi was issued the first special red license plate from Nevada for autonomous cars as it continues to test cars in that state. Nevada actually has a license plate for driverless cars!(?) Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott witnessed Audi’s demonstration of its system on the Tampa expressway, consequently designating the Tampa Expressway as an official test road. That’s gonna bring profiling drug runners to a new level.
For those with deep pockets- and I do mean deep- there is an aftermarket, bolt on, ready to drive autonomous retrofit kit that will make your car autonomous. Unfortunately I could not find the advertisement I had so carefully saved in my extremely organized filing system on my desk, so as to provide the name and address of said company, however it will resurface again—eventually, and I can provide it at a later date.

By now you have seen the advertisement for the dad teaching his son to drive while the distracted teen is saved from a rear-ending collision by the safety device that automatically applied the brakes. That is a reality – it is here, but what you may not know about is the active cruise control and lane changing systems. The active cruise control is some German made cars- it will start to reduce the speed of the car when it detects (through a type of radar) another car ahead that is within the danger zone. In essence this system will always maintain the car to car distance for safe braking. Other systems detect a car in the “blind spot” and not allow you to change lanes- or at least discourage you from changing lanes.

As in all new technology, the early days will be fraught with bugs. The consumer is always the final test engineer. The consumer will find ways to break something in ways the engineers had never imagined. It will also become, I am certain, mainstream in a few years as costs come down and reliability goes up- just like antilock braking systems, traction control systems, and “full time four wheel drive systems. The safety it will provide will be the driving force, no matter how scary it seems to us now.

I can foresee these events giving rise to whole new breed of car thieves. Hack into the computer system, and have the car drive away to the chop shop all by itself. BTW- all those ads for locking your house, turning lights on/off, setting the heating and air conditioning from your cell phone? If it’s computerized, it can be hacked into. A new level of breaking and entering by thieves is in the future. No longer will the stereotyped thug be your burglar, but now a geek/nerd. Think about that before you indulge.

Along with the hacking problem, what happens when the “grid” is compromised? On a lower level- our business, just like many others, relies on the net for our repair information, our parts ordering, and many other functions. Our repair information is no longer available on paper or discs- it is all on the net. Net goes down, we go down. Computer dies, we die. Extrapolate this into your car and house all being electronically controlled. Pretty scary, isn’t it?

And, it will be monitored, just like your cell phone is today.

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