The Hyundai-first hidden rear-view camera stays hidden until the vehicle is placed in reverse, then flips out from behind its badgework. (Source: Hyundai)
Every couple of days, my Honey Bunches of Oats asks me to help her see better. It’s not a case of mixing up some wonder smoothie for her brown-tint orbs; it’s about cleaning her spectacles, with a soiled factor that speaks of conditioning the lenses with pats of butter.
If I failed to do so, she might end up having heartfelt conversations with our water cooler in a week’s time.
Automobile manufacturers want you, and your car, to see better, as evidenced by the abundance of sensor and camera-driven systems, for everything from effortless parking, to the engagement of the wiper blades, with a sweep specific to the amount of droplets on the windscreen.
Headlamps are now able to auto-dim in night-time high beam situations. These are just the mainstream solutions. Add to this lane departure warnings, even night-vision solutions, and the answer is abundantly clear: the human race is too stupid to drive.
Yet drive we must, and with increasing regularity, and duration. Mix these components with a worldwide dependence on our perceived importance within the social media food chain.
We are fast becoming a society that must text, tweet, and profile update during every waking minute of the day. Flip on the plasma screen and the abundance of advertisements seem to hover between the next smartphone, your next car, and your next anti-depressant.
The days of putting your mind in gear before you put your car in gear are as antiquated as three-speed on the tree. We are unable to disconnect. We are a distracted driving nation.
As of late, an abundance of FoMoCo product has graced the test driveway at Casa Clark. This week, a 2012 Ford Focus SEL, complete with self-park assist, and its posse of seven bumper-mount sensors.
The grouping is part of the sorcery that allows the Focus, and other Blue Ovals, to find the perfect sized space, and self-steer into position, with the only responsibility of the driver being the application of the brake pedal.
It is still a spectral experience, as ghostly servos spin the wheel in front of your eyes. Pundits will argue that this technology is part of the Great Detachment, the removal of driver from machine, in favour of smaller, smarter machines.
It may conjure up discussion of Asimov and the Three Laws, though the answer may be as simple as the change in the elements of roof structure, and diminishing daylight openings.
Until we reach the subterranean veins of Unattainium ore that will allow the supermodel-thin A, B, and C pillars of the 1950s, seeing out of a modern vehicle is getting increasingly difficult, especially with the Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety hinging on rollover incident roof crush tests. We can’t see out like we used to. We need these sensors more than we realize. They are welcome.
The mainstream will soon see a much-anticipated improvement for the back-up camera, courtesy of the 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT. The camera stays hidden until the vehicle is placed in reverse gear, then it flips out from behind its Hyundai badgework.
The beauty of this servo is in keeping the camera lens protected from much of the road splash. Much like the Canadian tradition of peeking through the slightest of windshield portholes during winter, consider how many drivers shrug their shoulders at the dirty image, yet still back up, assuming that they can separate a smudge from an errant child.
The US-based National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had been pushing for mandatory back-up cameras in all cars by 2014.
Considering that achieving this goal is looking more ‘maybe’ by the day, it’s time for some million-dollar ideas as an attachment for the final rule.
For example, on vehicles equipped with rear wiper assemblies, the possibility of moving the camera lens to a location within the path of the wiper sweep. Some form of trunk lid-mounted ball washer for the circular lens. Biodegradable lens cleaning wipes, with a handy dispenser. Better yet, a Grime Sensor that keeps the car firmly in Park until the lens is cleaned.
The problem encountered with many sensor-driven systems is that they can be compromised by dirt and slush. At least there are fail-safes, usually appearing in the driver's information screens.
So, at some point in the cleanliness, or the eventual Murphy’s Law teachings of mechanical failure, the sensor-laden driver will be called upon to put their mind in gear. Will they be able to?
Imagine the excuses that will become part of insurance adjuster jargon in the next 50 years:
“My car's infrared scanner array had grasshopper plasma on its surface, which is why my car failed to alert me to the white-tail deer in my path, which proceeded to lodge itself in my windshield.”
“It was the car’s fault, officer, the car.”
This is what will become of our perception of responsibility in a collision, much like the new perception of intelligence, based on our ability to ask Google for what may or may not be the right answer. Stupid is as stupid does.
The alternative, and one that dates back to the Technicolor days of the General Motors Motorama newsreels, is automation, for highways, and the vehicle pods that will populate them.
Eventually, the sensors will ask us to relinquish control, or simply intervene, and take us out of harm’s way. Those who wax poetic, and long for the days when a personal vehicle was something a driver controlled, will most likely be rounded up for ‘re-programming.’