I’ve worked in automotive engineering for 30 years, with everything from a race-tuned Reliant Robin engine (to be used as a fire pump) through to Formula 1, and everything in-between – WRC, WEC, IndyCar, BTCC, WTCC and low-volume manufacturing, to name a few.

I grew up with sci-fi vehicles like the Johnny Cab, or watching the original Top Gear with William Woollard and Chris Goffey, in which we were presented ‘The Car of the Future’, usually in the guise of something with wings, or semi-autonomous capacity. Today, we are living that sci-fi reality.

It’s easy to decry this technology as the ‘Nanny State’ governing us and our driving, and to a degree, that’s exactly what it is. But, and it’s a big but, it’s these smaller steps of semi-autonomy, Artificial Intelligence, and governance, that are leading the charge to science-fiction, becoming science-fact.

Artificial Intelligence

Gone are the days of perfecting the manual gearchange, double declutching, balancing power against grip, or even just reverse parking into a tight spot; modern cars can take care of all of that, and so much more.

Driving was once an art, possibly flamboyant, definitely something that you never finished learning or perfecting, but with the PlayStation generation, it’s just a tool, a method of transportation, where your inputs need to be bare minimum, with maximum efficiency. Is that such a bad thing?

Of course, much of the innovation comes from the need for safety, but it could be argued that  it’s a vicious circle: As cars become easier to drive, with less thought needed, driving standards fall because drivers don’t need to be as aware, or switched on.

Whatever the reasoning, a new way of driving is upon us, and it’s making the most of modern and innovative technologies such as Artificial Intelligence.

Bosch Interior Monitoring System

The latest news in safety and monitoring, comes from the German brand, Bosch GmbH. They are pioneering a system that uses a combination of cameras and Artificial Intelligence to monitor the occupants of a vehicle.

The system is capable of actively adjusting numerous safety systems (seat-belts being a prime example) to best contain or minimise injury; cameras mounted in the steering wheel, rear-view mirror and roof, will monitor eye movement, blink rate, and seating position to best determine whether the driver is distracted, or even if the passengers are sitting in an awkward position (as is the way with most children).

It can then take the appropriate action, be that adjust seat-belts, slowing the car, or just sounding a warning signal.

1 in 10

Past research tells us that around one in ten accidents are caused by distracted or tired driving, the European Commission estimates that systems such as the Bosch IMS could help save 25,000 lives by 2038.

That’s no small number, but you’d have to ask yourself whether in 2038, a system such as this will still be relevant? Surely, full autonomy will be commonplace, with human decisions at an absolute bare minimum?

With that said, this type of technology will be used in production vehicles from 2022, along with the speed monitoring systems and numerous other AI-based innovations, all to make our motoring lives safer. While I dislike the fact that these systems seem to be removing the skilful element of driving, I appreciate that these are necessary if we’re to make the switch to full autonomy in the future.

However, we’ve all seen the photographs of Tesla drivers seemingly asleep at the wheel, letting the Autopilot system do all the work. While that behaviour is (currently) illegal, and Tesla have built-in some safeguards (such as having your hands on the steering wheel), surely that’s the obvious misuse of these systems that we’d expect?

This is part of the problem that we referred to earlier – as cars become easier to drive, with less input needed, driving standards will fall, and we could see a spike in collisions and accidents as a result. American police have already had to use the Tesla’s Autopilot to bring a car safely to a stop (with the Tesla system recognising that the car in front was slowing to stop and it followed), but reliance on safety is still down to the one thing that can’t be changed; human behaviour.

Truthfully, there’s no easy answer, and the gap between traditional drivers and the PlayStation generation is getting wider – think of your elderly mother continuing to struggle with sending a text, and how frustrating that is to someone where it’s second nature. These modern generation vehicles will soon become similar.

Is technology a good thing? Is there an issue of slowing down the introduction of tech to allow drivers to keep up? Or should we just push for as much autonomy as possible? Let us know in the comments.

Image credit: Bosch

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