Yesterday, as the sun peaked out near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, a 3,500 mile journey was about to get under way. A company called Delphi Automotive PLC started off on a coast-to-coast drive in a technology laden Audi SUV in an attempt to navigate a cross continental trip to New York without the input of a human driver.
The vehicle is equipped with almost two dozen sensors, multiple cameras and lasers which Chief Technology Officer Jeff Owens believes will be a great stepping stone to making this innovation a reality for everyday use. In comments made prior to the excursion and with testing already completed on the streets of California and Las Vegas, Owens remarked, “Now it’s time to put our vehicle to the ultimate test by broadening the range of driving conditions. This drive will help us collect invaluable data in our quest to deliver the best automotive grade technologies on the market.”
While I am not against developing instruments to make our roads a safer place, I hope that this doesn’t spell the end of those of us that love cars and the joy that only a daily drive can bring. Automated cars could provide for ease of travel for those long held traditions of family summer vacations that include hours of driving to our favorite destinations or that jaunt down I-95 to grandma’s house a couple of states South, but that is not what the “car guy” is all about. If you are anything like me, you are always dreaming about that next drive or the new modifications you would like to make to your vehicle before the next big car show or racing event.
Let’s be honest, who is going to want to add a great set of coilovers to a car that is being driven by a host of computer hardware? It seems to me, that if automated cars are the future, our self-driven antiques will be relegated to track day outings and gawkers at local car shows.
Car companies have spent decades improving the driving experience for car aficionados who love to get behind the wheel of a well-balanced vehicle, yet there is a whole other segment of automotive and computer engineers who are spending their days trying to create a safe and monotonous commute to work. BMW has long used the phrase, “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” to market their cars. Will their slogans and attitudes need to change in how they develop and create their cars? Are the automotive paradigms going to change to appease the masses that don’t care much about their driving experience, but only how safely and efficiently they get to their destination? Only time and technology will tell the full story.
As these two worlds collide, one can only hope that there will always be a place for those of us who love to drive and seek out great roads. A great drive is relaxing to the soul and a perfect ending to the usually imperfect day. There will never be a computer that can replace the visceral experience and sense of freedom you get with your hands on the wheel and a great engine note echoing off a canyon on your favorite motorway. Here’s to hoping that those Sunday drives don’t become a piece of automotive lore.