Richard Hammond on: talking cars
Some Americans at a university in Virginia are working on cars and bikes that will talk to each other. Not shoot the breeze about the weather, obviously, but share information about who is where, doing what and how fast they’re doing it. No doubt there are other boffins about the world working on similar systems. The theory being that a motorcycle, say, will be able to pull up at a junction and it will automatically know that a car is coming along the road it’s about to cross.
Very clever. And about time too. It’s not as though this technology isn’t already around. I can navigate by satellite on my bike, there are cars you can switch on to preheat while you’re still in bed and people can use their mobiles to see if there are other people in the area who fancy hooking up for a meal and chat.
I simply cannot see how it has taken so long for us to equip our cars and motorcycles with the exact same kinds of technology that might save lives, time and fuel and make our lives better. And while I’m on the subject, why can’t the same people turn their attention to motorway information boards? They’re rubbish. I’ve never believed anything any of them has told me. Which means on the one occasion they tell me that there is a massive delay ahead or a rampaging Godzilla is coming the other way, and there actually is a massive delay ahead or a rampaging Godzilla is coming the other way I shall ignore it as I always do and barrel headlong into the jam or Godzilla’s evil clutches. It’s the information age, for pity’s sake, so let’s share it.
If cars and bikes can warn one another that they are coming round the corner, then they can tell one another how fast, how good the brakes are and surely, how lively or dopey the codger or bright young thing at the wheel manages to be as a rule... and whether said car or bike reckons there’s a cat’s chance in hell of them pulling up before a crash. Driving could be monitored by the car; events analysed and the information stored and cached ready for broadcast to others in the vicinity.
Information about traffic delays, jams or, better still, empty stretches of motorway could be shared in nanoseconds and distributed to vehicles heading for that area. So why the bloody hell isn’t it happening? An app for your phone costs what, 49p? So don’t tell me the software is expensive. And we regularly set off on the school run in a car with a hundred times the computing power of a lunar landing mission of a few decades ago, so the software can be absorbed as easily as an M&M can be by a 10-year-old.
There will, inevitably, be objectors. I believe they will divide into two schools. There will be those who claim it is an infringement of their human rights to have their driving, journeys and locations monitored by the car and the resulting data made available to others on the network, wherever and whoever they are.
So what? Unless you are a spy – and if you were, you wouldn’t tell anyone, obviously – then who gives a damn about where you’re going or when? If it’s useful for another driver to know that my car is in a massive jam on the A40 at Gloucester and it might be better diverting round the M50, what skin is it off my nose?
They might be rushing to deliver a baby or put out a fire. Yes, I might be more sensitive about it if I were regularly making runs to dispose of nuclear waste in a top-secret plant, but I suspect these things are taken care of separately under special conditions. Your school run, office commute, supermarket dash or Sunday run in the country are, I’m afraid, of naff all interest or use to me or anyone else.
And the same goes for all of us, but the prevailing traffic conditions, precise positioning of your car on the road I’m about to join and a rough estimate of your ability to spot me on my bike and avoid or brake in time are, naturally, of immense interest, so why not share them?
The second school of objectors will mither on about how they resent the interference, the suggestion that a machine knows better than them: that their decades of hard-earned experience won in the real, organic world is somehow of less value than a massive, nationally linked network of live, comprehensive, real-time data distributed and shared among every car on the road and updated constantly in nanoseconds to become a vast, shared intellect.
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Yeah, well it is better, so just suck it up and stop moaning. I, for one, will not be able to contain myself. I can’t wait to set out in my ageing Mustang or on my old Norton, both without a brain of any semblance, let alone access to a global, digital brain of advanced interconnectivity.
I shall arrive at junctions, and my soul will vibrate with the thrill of timing for myself the exact moment I should pull out. I shall make my own decisions about routes, and stand by those decisions when I sink into a mire of traffic. Unless I need to get anywhere: in which case, I shall hook up, press GO and join in with the rest. What’s wrong with that?