Autonomous cars have already taken over the world and are on the verge of making their final, decisive manoeuvre to eject humanity out of the driving seat. The machines have achieved their domination by using the humble and unsuspecting traditional car as their primary instrument of deception.
That’s according to David Sloan, Chicago Auto Show general manager, although he may not have put it in those exact words. Speaking to Chicago Sun-Times, Sloan says: “People might be surprised to know that most of the technology that will be used to make car autonomous in the future is already in cars today on our show floor.”
Surprised? Try shocked and terrified.
Sloan goes on to say: “All the safety technology that allows cars to automatically brake or park, even adaptive cruise control, is there. Vehicles are now safer, cleaner and more efficient than they have ever been and automakers are still able to make them perform really well. The technology is rapidly advancing, and we’re ready for it.”
So despite the idea that they might be more frightening than sitting in the passenger seat while Frank Drebin goes in hot pursuit of a suspect, autonomous cars are now being introduced – by stealth – as the exact opposite: the harbingers of a safer world.
Central to the claim of the supposed superiority of driverless cars when it comes to safety features is autonomous emergency braking (AEB). This feature, despite being something that clearly takes control away from the driver, has largely been welcomed by car-buying public, and is now fast becoming standard in the cars of today.
A quick glance at the cars at the stands at the Chicago Auto Show reveals that a large number of them feature AEB. And not just AEB. As Sloan says, a number of technologies which would otherwise be regarded as components of an autonomous car are also becoming standard features in today’s “conventional” human-driven cars.
Kia is showing off its Forte and Sportage models at the Chicago Auto Show and, as well as autonomous emergency braking, both cars feature lane change warning and assist functions, lane keep assist, front collision warning, blind spot detection, and rear-cross traffic alert.
The company says its 2017 Sportage is the first of its vehicles to UV03, which comprises 14 telematics services, 8 GB of music storage, access to onscreen apps and Wi-Fi tethering capability – all free of charge.
The Kia car shown in the Super Bowl 50 ad – the Optima – was installed with forward-collision warning and AEB systems a couple of years ago.
Kia is not the only carmaker which is increasingly incorporating autonomous features into its vehicles. Volvo, another company which will exhibit its products at the Chicago Auto Show, is committed to what it calls Vision 2020, which states that “no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo by the year 2020”.
Volvo says this would be accomplished through highly advanced semi-autonomous features.
Mercedes, Chrysler, Volkswagen and all other major carmakers are also committed to incorporating autonomous or semi-autonomous technology into their cars in the next few years.
As telematics expert Dr Sam Chapman, chief innovation officer at The Floow, says: “The market for autonomous vehicles is already here today, not 10 or 20 years away. I strongly believe this market has already started. Already a prime factor in most car purchases is the sophistication of the electronics and its interface to the driver.
“Autonomous braking has been seen to be hugely effective in taking control away from drivers in critical conditions and is featured across an increasing number of makes and models with discussions in the EU concerning whether to mandate its inclusion in all new models on the market.
“As this technology progresses, more and more control will be possible to safely automate. However, the technology itself is not the bottleneck in progress.
“Currently the largest barriers to widespread adoption are end-user acceptance and how to gain regulator approval who both require evidence of safety and acceptance of these new technologies. The key to this is robust testing and validation mechanisms for new technology.”
In an article about the Chicago Auto Show, Jill Ciminillo writes that while industry experts may differ on exactly when autonomous cars will reveal themselves as the true robot overlords of today’s world, many of their portents are already in our cars.
Ciminillo lists the crucial ones as being automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, autopilot, backup collision intervention, and forward collision detection – some of these have been mentioned above.
As well as what could could be called intelligent or “smart” technology as integral components of the car itself, more and more smartphone apps are able to connect to today’s cars and perform a wide variety of task.
In an article on the Chicago Auto Show’s blog, Jennifer Morand lists some smartphone apps that “heighten your daily driving experience through enhanced comfort, convenience and safety”.
Included on Morand’s list are such app as iOnRoad, Camcorder, GasBuddy, and a few others, including that all-important thermostat-controlling app to enable you to make sure your home is nice and warm by the time you’ve made it through the treacherous wintry weather conditions on the roads.
The Chicago Auto Show is the largest auto show in North America, and was first staged in 1901. It’s organised by the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, which claims to be the oldest and largest metropolitan dealer organisation in the US.
The marathon nine-day show is attended by more than 1 million people, and features all of the leading vehicle manufacturing companies in the world.