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Road rage – runaway electronic technology in cars

People are to blame – so cars must outsmart them. And no, seniors aren’t to blame. Today’s Wall Street Journal confirmed that Toyota’s foot pedals were not at fault for the suddenly accelerating cars last year – was it human error?  In today’s NY Times we learned that the value of a human life is, uh, rising in dollar value ($9.1 million according to some federal agencies?). So what’s a government to do to avoid the cost of fewer than 40,000 driving fatalities last year? Save us from ourselves and cut power when both brake and accelerator are hit and how about adding black box recorders for post-crash analysis?

So what is the car company’s wide-angle view?  Well, for one, they will provide us (somehow, somewhere) with a real-time image of what’s behind us when we back up, a concierge service to remind about maintenance -- perhaps, suggesting a nearby dealer with empty service bays combined with billboards telling us that the wait time for a slot is less than 5 minutes? How about automated software updates for cars that are continuously connected to the Internet – and of course, these updates will be completely immune from malicious hacking.  Perhaps one day we will all have self-operating Google-ish crowd-sourcing vehicles — while we’re watching a movie in the back, the cars will be chatting among themselves on the roadways to achieve mandatory smooth-flowing traffic flows. This vehicle autonomy will be part of the now-noisy car, ringing, clanging, and blinking to prevent us from swerving out of lanes as we sneakily check our down-by-our-knees mobile phones.

If it weren’t for those pesky drivers, cars would know just what to do.  In keeping with the blame-the-driver theme, The Wall Street Journal cited a BMW owner who sheepishly admited to calling for service assistance after he absent-mindedly got out of his car “while it was still quietly running” -- thus using up all of its gas. So I guess it was excellent engineering that allowed him to open and shut the door and walk away from an idling, now-empty car, whose body-sensor enriched seats are apparently not smart enough to know that the owner has been gone for at least half-a-tank.

Down the road – will we want a smarty-pants car? To prevent those rampant accelerator-brake mishaps, new designs will helpfully provide new gas and brake pedal positions that will require driver retraining -- ahem, that would be all new car buyers??? Being trained by whom? Okay, we get it. Let's forget about Driving Miss Daisy. Imagine a future with driverless cars, slamming to a stop on their own and scaring us half to death, but if we are actually behind the wheel, helpfully suggesting useful tips after observing our lame attempts to swerve out of our lane against the car’s will, detected by software that is periodically hacked by the same creative types who will bring us yesterday’s PC virus tomorrow. 

Car companies and regulators have washed their windshields free of us. No longer able to count on us to be able to see or know where we’re going either frontward or backward, automotive manufacturers will eventually just count us out of their wide-angle lens. Keyless and clueless, that’s us – and now that technology can change everything, eliminating labor everywhere we look, it will eliminate the last of our physical connection with cars.  And the term ‘mechanical’ will become so yesterday.

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Published in Times today, it turns out research has proven that the car software systems can be hacked remotely.


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