For several months, the local police have been aggressively patrolling the road that leads to my house. You can count on seeing cars pulled over and drivers getting ticketed almost every day. It’s not uncommon to see multiple cars pulled over — on a stretch of road that is about 5 miles long.
Of course, I try to remember that the cops are intently watching and remind everyone else in the house to slow down as well. But sometimes … I forget. The other day, I was running down the road a bit over the speed limit when I spotted the white nose of a police car lurking on a side road up ahead. I immediately got on the brakes and was legal by the time I passed him. So, this story has a happy ending: I didn’t get pulled over or get a ticket.
But as I went by the idling patrol car, I thought: Wouldn’t it be cool to have a sort of “Siri-like” interface with your car, where you could tell it to help you out in certain situations? A voice command where you could say, “Hey, Car, any time I’m on this stretch of Flatwoods Road, don’t allow me to exceed the posted speed limit.”
No sooner had that thought taken shape than I realized that some semi-autonomous technology like that is probably already in the works and will appear on passenger cars (and eventually trucks) sometime soon. In fact, I think this type of interactive autonomous vehicle safety and control systems may be one of the next baby-steps taking us ever closer to full-on, Level 4 autonomous cars and trucks.
Let’s take this concept a step further. I’m a fan of the Waze traffic app, which I use on longer road trips to avoid getting tickets or stuck in traffic jams. It’s a crowd-sourced app. That means it collects data both passively and actively from other motorists to help you deal with upcoming traffic situations, such as slow lanes, accidents, speed traps, construction, stalled vehicles and other roadside hazards. You can set all sorts of notification parameters on the app. But, when the friendly Waze female voice issues you a warning, “police reported ahead!” it’s up to you to hit the brakes and get legal before that radar beam finds the front of your vehicle.
But what if you could integrate a similar app with your car or truck’s powertrain? What if you could tell the app to automatically make certain you haven't drifted a few mph over the posted speed limit if indeed police are reported ahead?
What if such an app could automatically alert you and provide ready alternate route information if traffic on your route is congested? You could even tell your vehicle to always drive, say, 10 mph below the posted speed limits on poorly maintained stretches of road. Or instruct it to provide you with refueling options — including current prices, wait times, food options and parking availability — when your range falls below a certain point. There are all sorts of interactive driver assistance options that an integrated app like that could provide to a car or truck with Level 3 autonomous control systems.
The vehicle OEMs’ first instinct will no doubt be to make these sorts of interactive driver assistance systems proprietary. But I’m not sure that would work to the degree I’m proposing here. That’s because knowledge is power. And if you want real-time information on traffic flow, congestion, hazards, and where Sheriff Buford T. Justice is currently hiding, you’re going to need input from a wide range of vehicles and drivers. Getting intel only from vehicles that are the same make as the one you’re in probably won’t provide enough data to help you out very much.
It will be interesting if a more organic means of gathering driving information and actively helping drivers like this concept comes to market soon. It’s another example of how technology from many different sources may come together to assist us as we move into the autonomous age.