Adventures in Hire Cars - Technology

After driving in the past few months more cars that I had in the past few years, and buying a new car last year, it has become quite clear that there has been a massive step change in the technology that a car has on the inside, some of which is quite impressive, but other less so. I thought it interesting to discuss the ones that have made an impression.

Autonomous Driving
We are quite a bit away from the autonomous driving future that the big car companies are look at, but I can see a few steps here and there on the way to that destination. Connie and I are ddivided ivived over this = she doesn't think a car will ever be able to safely drive itself. I'm more positive that it'll happen at somepoint and almost believe that Joni and Etta may live in a world where buses and trucks drive themselves, but the humble private car might be a while away.

I was thinking about this when drving two cars - the Infiniti Q30 and my most recent hire, the Kia Sportage (the 308 died, but that's a different story). These cars had bits of technology in them that appeared to be beta tests for some features that an autonomous car needs. The first in sign recognition - both cars "read" road signs, pulling speed limits out off signs and putting them onto the dashboard. It's not like the old way of doing it - taking it from the classicification of the road, but they "see" the signs - noted by the fact that they picked up the temporary speed limits on the roadworks on the M6, and the 10 mph in the office car park.

The second is the impressive feature of the Kia to do "Active Lane Keep Assist", which basically means it'll keep the car between the two white lines of the road on it's own. I tried this out along with the cruise control and the car basically was, for a few seconds, "driving" it's self. I mean, it'd lose the lane every so often, and it would also not see any other cars (other bits of kit do that, that being said) but it was impressive just how well it worked.

Auto-stop/start and Gliding mode
The recent raft of emissions rules that the EU have put out has challenged car makers to make changes to their eingines, and these two features are designed to help with that. The car stopping it's engine when stationary is not new - in fact, I vivildy remember a demonstration of this technology on Blue Peter on a Nissan Micra back in the early 1990s before it has become the staple of today. I do wonder if sparking the engine up after one second of being off whilst at a giveway makes any sense, but the engine does it fine in most cars.

The other is a Mercedes Benz feature I liked - when driving, if you took your foot off the accelerator it'd enter Gliding Mode, which would slip the car out of drive and into the nuetral coasting feature. it was really impressive when it engaged it, and the slip back into drive was perfectly seamless, but it did feel weird on hills when the lack of engine braking (the turn over of the engine actually slows the car down when there is no power) and you had to pay attention that you weren't speeding up too much.

Keyless Entry
The dogshit 500X has this, but as soon as I got used to it, I missed it from my normal life. It was fun just walking away from the car knowing it'd lock and open when I approached it. The best moment was when I realised that I'd left the keys in the office, but the car was parked under my window, so I could open it even without the keys being on me. That was quickly replaced by the horror that anyone could enter my car and start it and maytbe drive it away just because I was sitting in my office close enough to it. Wierd.

Touchscreens
Our Yeti has a resistive touchscreen - one that recognises the input from the pressure, not like your smartphone. That's not amazing for a car, as it requires your eyes to leave the road. In fact, almost all touchscreens do, which is why the Peugeot 308's buttonless dash was fancy, but it just meant to change anything I was looking away from the road. The biggest issue with the touchscreens is a slow response. The Insignia's touchscreen was fast, but the 500X's was like treacle. It is very noticable when driving when there's a delay in switching on the radio.

Auto... everything else
Automatic lights, windscreen wipers, parking cameras, automatic full beams (I really like this), automatic beeps when you leave lanes without signalling... cars are mountains of tech. These are all pretty neat features, but all feel like the small baby steps towards cars becoming random pointless things we don't need to own.

That's righlt; I'm of the school of thought that Joni and Etta will not own cars, but own memberships to car clubs that means when they need to drive you tap your smart[whatever they invent] and a car appears, takes you there, and then disappears. The idea of ownership is going to change.

And no one will die in a car. That's the key; Connie feels like cars driven by people are safer than auto-driving cars, but that's not only not ture, it's demonstrably not true. Hundreds of people die around the world on roads every single day, if not every hour, and the next generation will look back as say "Dad, you actually drove your cars... yourself? At 70mph!? That's insane! And, wait, they didn't automatically link up and avoid each other? That's just mental!" in the same way we laugh today about those people who walked out in front of the first cars with red flags, or when our parents used to drive around in cars without seatbelts, or when I was a kid and cars didn't have crumple zones, air bags, or ABS.

It's a matter of time.