Slow Development

I’m waiting for the next big advance in automotive safety. As you might have gathered from my post last week, it’s not noise cancellation.

No, this isn’t a guessing game. It’s the logical outgrowth of the lane assist and automatic braking technology we already have.

When are we getting…um…heck, I can’t think of a good advertisable name for it. Which might just be part of the reason we haven’t seen it deployed yet. I’m talking about some kind of warning system that alerts a driver who’s following too closely.

It could just be an alert, like the lane monitoring routines that trigger if you cross the lines without signaling for a lane change. Or it could be a proactive solution, slowing down your car to increase the space in front of you, in the same way that automatic braking takes over the vehicle.

Yes, it’s a complicated problem. Off the top of my head, it would need to consider your speed and the speed of the cars around you, weather conditions, the height and direction of the sun, the state of the road, and even the age and condition of your tires. And there are other questions that would need to be addressed. Should the technology shut off in parking lots and other areas where the typical top speed is measured in single digits? What about in bumper to bumper freeway traffic? Can the driver shut it off, either temporarily or permanently?

But complicated doesn’t mean impossible, and it’s a problem that’s going to have to be solved for autonomous vehicles. That means there are plenty of bright people (and history suggests there are even more not-so-bright people) working on it right now.

I’d even be willing to bet that there’s at least one auto manufacturer who has it solid enough that they could deploy it by 2021–the same year as Bose’s noise cancellation.

But we’re probably not going to see it that soon, if ever, because if you thought the technology was complicated, give some thought to the marketing!

To be blunt, the people who most need this are the ones who are least likely to buy a car that has it. Do you think that guy who rides your bumper and goes zipping across three lanes of traffic will be willing to pay for his car to slow him down (or even nag him to back off)? How about the woman who’s trying to improve her fuel economy a little by drafting behind a big rig?

So, no, we’re not going to see Safe Distance any time soon. Not until some smart marketer comes up with a more salable name for it and all manufacturers are ready to deploy it–or there’s a legal mandate to include it in all new cars sold.

I’ll be dreaming of the day.

2 thoughts on “Slow Development

  1. Wow, I hate tailgaters, and I would love that. It does involve some complicated calculations. It’s actually pretty amazing how our brains can make these calculations so fast (at least, those of us who aren’t jerks).

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    • I suspect that even those of us who don’t consider ourselves jerks aren’t as good at doing it ourselves as we think we are. We’ll creep up or fall back without even realizing it. I could seriously see this as saving nearly as many lives as seat belts if it ever gets implemented. If.

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