Are you ready to let your car take the wheel?

“We can also ask that since cars will be self-driving, will there be a need to have an actual driver’s license?”



A couple of days ago I read a blogpost written by US guy who is pretty angry about the current state of marital bliss, or lack of, in the new world. He’s a divorcee and has thought to pen what I find are legitimate reasons why marriage, or at least his recently ended matrimony, doesn’t work today. At the root of his findings is technology. Facebook and Instagram are mentioned on more than 3 occasions but importantly he blames the digital age and its toys for taking a toll on the psyche and relationship skills of the modern day human being.

This got me thinking. I too have frowned upon technology that has trickled into cars. At first it was slow, then it picked up pace. Today it’s moving at an impressively quick pace. A few years ago I mourned the eventuality of the manual gearbox being eradicated completely. This would mean no engagement with a car whatsoever. Prodding the indicator stalk is noway to show love and appreciation to a mechanical beast and, the anodyne sensations of pulling on steering wheel flaps maybe great for gamers but it cannot beat the ability to manipulate, communicate, coax, feel, manage or facilitate when and how to unleash a torrent of power to the wheels.

Thankfully the scale of economies all over the world has ensured that we can still clutch-in when we are behind the wheel of entry-level cars. The good old stick-shift is now virtually extinct at the premium end though. You can still order some Porsche 911 derivatives in manual but since the tables have turned, and it’s now an option while the auto PDK ‘box is standard fitment, prepare to pay through the nose for wanting to turn back the time.

And to emphasize how much of a mechanica-non-grata a manual box has become, the 2015 Porsche 911 GT3 RS; one of the company’s foremost sporting driver’s car is available exclusively in PDK. No manual, regardless of how much money you are willing to pay.

We have already given up on some driving duties and thanks to radar enabled cruise control, provided they remove toll-booths along the N3, you can drive all the way to Umgababa without ever using your feet to brake or accelerate. Mercedes-Benz and Honda in South Arica already sell cars that can self-steer into gentle curves provided you keep your hands on the steering wheel. It’s a bit spooky but after a taxing day you do learn to appreciate this feature, but functionality is still very limited.

But are you ready to give up complete control of the steering wheel now?

You better start practicing to fold your arms, or play a Candy Crush while the car swerves past a taxi on Malibongwe Drive. Of course this is one of the spanners in the works that I’ve just thrown because to get car manufacturers to create car computer brains that can successfully deal with the unpredictable progress of Skhaleni will take a very long time.

But the self-driving car is here now and we have to contend with much, natural fear of not being in control included. All the major manufacturers have completed their research and have working models which they are ready sell. Suprizingly the first batch of these self-driving cars have a steering wheel. You can still choose to navigate manually or hit a button where the car takes over. This signals that we are still very far from total autonomy, Jetson style.

But trials continue in Europe. Some individuals have been handed cars as part of various campaigns but the conditions are so sterile. They live in areas where there is little or no traffic and it begs to question if they have a solution for Nigeria, or even Noord street in Joburg.

One of the biggest headaches that car makers face is legislation. And although autonomous cars are bandied as a tool towards zero collision motoring, we all know that s*#t happens.

While they are busy ironing out that side-winder I’ll also ask if at all the day will come when it will be unlawful to own a manually operated car. If not then why bother now? And if so will they then invent a special button installed in cop cars scribbled with ‘CHASE.’ Will the squad car then be able to maneuver out of the humdrum convoys we will be driving in or will it do hand-brake turns when necessary? Contrary to this pessimistic view if all cars were self-driving, non-overtaking trams then the cash-in-transit van heist would be an ill of the past.

We can also ask that since cars will be self-driving, will there be a need to have an actual driver’s license? Do you need defensive driving courses?

Look there are more positives that I see in intelligent cars. I know the girls will love the luxury of applying on foundation while on the move, and it will be safer. Sure, perhaps we can even achieve that zero-collisions dream, but at what cost? No more panel beaters, no more metal workers because the cars will likely be made out of cardboard and run on batteries, no more Ekurhuleni Metro rozzers (this brings a smile somewhat), no more drifting, heck a whole lot of what makes life interesting would just seize to exist.

Like that disgruntled divorcee, this petrol head foresees doom and gloom. Some technologies should stay firmly in the labs and used as exhibitions of engineering prowess rather than tools to alter Mother Earth as we know and love her. But perhaps this was the same ghastly outlook that the early Horse Men had when the first motorised vehicle loomed.


Phuti Mpyane 

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