Cars of future put backseat drivers out of work

Lori Borgman | Monday,  January 14, 2018

The first thing engraved on my brain as a new driver was to keep my hands at the 10 and 2 positions on the steering wheel. I just saw a picture of a driverless car of the future. It doesn’t even have a steering wheel.

What do you do with your hands? I imagine mine will be waving wildly in the air as I scream.

The other thing we were taught as new drivers was to keep our eyes on the road in front of us.

The driver’s seat in one prototype driverless car can swivel to the back. To see the road in front of you, you’ll need eyes in the back of your head. (More flailing of arms, more screaming.)

Driverless cars are part of the future. I know that. I accept that. I don’t want to be the person filling boxes with 8-track tapes and cassettes when the new norm is storing music in the cloud. Although, in my defense, I hear that vinyl is making a comeback.

In any case, the truth is some of us go more reluctantly into the future than others. Some of us may need a push. Or a mild sedative. Or both.

I reassure myself with the fact that some of the technology utilized in driverless cars is already in place in many of today’s vehicles—things like anti-lock brake systems that detect vibrations when a vehicle begins to skid or slide and will pump the brakes for you.

Recently, after a nearly invisible layer of ice covered the roads overnight, the little yellow skid marks appeared on the dashboard as my vehicle began to slide. I managed to get to a full stop. Whew. Close one. And then the vehicle slid completely sideways.

I may need more reassurance.

Driverless cars have amazing robotic systems and software that can detect the presence and distance of other vehicles and pedestrians. A car being tested in the U.S. can detect the presence of pedestrians with 95 percent accuracy, which is excellent, unless you’re in the other 5 percent.

Another challenge facing driverless cars is creating sensors able to see through dust, fog, heavy rain and snow. Manufacturers are trying to develop sensors that mimic the eyes of certain animals able to make out shapes even in bad weather. No matter what we humans invent, at some level, we are always duplicating what nature has already mastered.

We were recently passengers in our friends’ new luxury sedan that has all sorts of computerized safety features. Our friend was driving as his wife explained that the car can tell him when and where to turn or to slow down if he is too close to an object or a pedestrian – and begin braking for him if he doesn’t brake. It also alerts him when he crosses into another lane and even keeps him from following the car in front of him too closely.

“Amazing,” I said.

“It’s nice all right,” she said with a grimace. “But now what am I supposed to do?”