Let's Get Technical: Auto Pilot

By Tom Dobush                                                              October 29th, 2014    

The automobile is just over one hundred years old and my how they have evolved over the years. The basics have remained pretty consistent over time, however. Cars still have wheels to roll, engines to power the wheels, and seats for drivers and passengers to be carried in. While evolving into the modern cars we drive today, the automobile became faster, safer and more efficient. A part of this process was that cars began to develop character, a life or traits all to their own. This is why we love our Audis, BMWs, Mercedes, MINIs, Porsches and VWs. Things have gotten better only to become worse and then corrected to improve even further. Today we are seeing the next step in the evolution of the personal transportation device we know and love.

In this age of computers we call phones and GPS that can seemingly guide you anywhere you desire without so much as a second thought, we have become ever more comfortable with the role technology plays in our daily lives. Autopilot is the next big step. The electric car is here, again, to stay. All major manufacturers, including our beloved brands have released cars of incredible efficiency and plug and play ease of use. We can now purchase a vehicle that can drive around all day with zero emissions. In roughly ten years’ time, we won’t just be talking about them or pointing at them when we see one on the road, they will become the new normal. Everyone will be driving them… or will they?

Jeremy Clarkson of BBC's Top Gear tests a semi-autonomous BMW 330 in 2010. This car had to be "taught" the track's ideal line before the demonstration.

You see, in the time it takes for the electric vehicle to become commonplace for the majority of commuters, driving will have gone the way of the dodo. Computer technology and artificial intelligence have been developing so rapidly since the late eighties, we are now starting to see the practical applications in the auto industry. This tech has actually been around since the nineties, but was suppressed by oil and insurance “influences”. Now that influence from Google has helped to sort the liability issues, along with the fact that climate change means carbon emissions are a bad idea, prepare to give up your drivers’ license.

This BMW M235i is claimed to be the next step in autonomous driving: a car that will not only drive itself, but that can perform extreme manoeuvres like drifting. This official BMW video shows the car drifting car with no input from the driver.

So while your next car, or perhaps the one after that may be fully electric or emissions free, chances are you won’t ever drive it. Before the next decade is over, your new A7, S Class, 7 Series, or Panamera will be able valet park itself, after taking you safely over hundreds of miles from A to B, while you take a nap, watch the news or read a book (err, tablet). You will simply sit down or perhaps recline comfortably after telling your “car” where to go. Yes this change won’t happen overnight, but probably faster than you might think. Pretty soon the traffic jam, and maybe even the red light will be ancient history.

Audi has progressed its driver assistance technology so far that you don't even need to be behind the wheel. What better way to terrify other road users than an unmanned car that can find and collect you with a single command from your smartphone?

An adaptive cruise control demonstration about five years ago convinced me the end was near. Cruising on a highway at triple digit speeds in a Porsche Panamera Turbo, the rep says “watch this”, as he began to turn onto an off ramp. Without touching the pedals at all, the radar system saw the guardrails we were closing in on and slowed the car rapidly. As he steered along the path of the ramp we came into traffic, which the car also saw and safely brought us to a stop behind the car in front of us. “Woah…” was all I could muster in response.

The 2014 Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept car is a technology platform with which Audi is exploring the possibilities of piloted driving at its most dynamic.

Now they can steer themselves and make informed, calculated decisions and you can find several autonomous vehicle demonstrations on the internet. Yes, it was funny to laugh at the Volvo demo that completely screwed up and crashed a year or two ago but the bugs have been worked out and it is only a matter of time until we realize how much safer the computers can be than our average (distracted driving) commuter.

So what does that mean for us, as enthusiasts? Time to get into a “vintage” car while you still can or at least get out and enjoy your modern driving device while you still can. Our days are numbered.

What do you think? Are you ready to give up the reigns? I greatly appreciate your questions, input and feedback at BavarianRocketScience@gmail.com. Thanks for reading and happy motoring!