On the Road to Autonomy at 2016 LA Auto Show

By Dean Adams Curtis

In the field of psychology, there is a branch called “developmental psychology. This branch of psychological thought is interested in how our brains develop understandings about, and reasoning behind, what is right and what is good. One stem within this branch is focused on moral psychology, which is particularly interested in how we develop on our road to autonomy, to our fully self-guided, autonomous, thoughtful adult selves.

In the field of automobile technology, thoughtful beings are rapidly steering we thoughtful adults (many of us vocally not-on-board-yet with full-auto autos) on the road to autonomy within fully self-guided cars.

So, let’s dig into the terms autonomy and autonomous a moment. As autonomous auto CONSUMERS, you are in control of what happens next. Analysts have been reporting for several years that autonomous vehicle tech is accelerating so rapidly that the main limitation to them now is driver acceptance.

From the beginning, “auto”mobiles have never been autonomous. Nor have they been “auto”matic. They have, however, offered humans more autonomy of movement. Autos provided freedom to move about towns and then to cruise the inevitable suburban landscape that automobiles facilitated. Autos also provided the freedom for autonomous individuals to get out of town, often to preserve their autonomy.

Discussions and displays at the 2016 LA Auto Show, revealed to TheFamilyCar and GreenFamilyCar correspondents that the autonomous vehicle age has already dawned.

Stare into the light of this new age for a moment. Imagine yourself driven to wherever you would like to go by your autonomous vehicle in the style and comfort to which we have become accustomed, more safely, speedily, and sustainably. Imagine that’s how all the other folks around you are travelling also. Terrified by the concept? Excited by it?

As we all try to wrap our real-road conditioned, car driver brains around whether autonomous vehicles are good, or right, for us, and for our roads, two important technology clusters, autonomous vehicle and electric vehicle technologies, will continue developing in parallel. And smart charging of autonomous EVs will most likely happen while both while they’re underway, as well as between uses.

Currently makers of vehicles with autonomous systems advise keeping both hands on the steering wheel. But, if the autonomous vehicle age is going to be truly desirable for consumers, it will need to offer more than vehicles that’re going to be wrestling control, or beeping annoyingly. For example, in the Chrysler Pacifica minivan that we test drove to and from the LA Auto Show, the lane-assist feature kept moving the steering wheel, providing an odd sensation that could diminish a driver’s sense of their own autonomy-over, control-over, the vehicle. Of course, just a little effort on the driver’s part turned the wheel in whatever direction the driver decided to go. And in the new Honda CRV, the lane assist doesn’t budge the wheel, but appears as a blinking and beeping circular warning light at the center of the dashboard cluster.

Revealing that we’re already into an autonomous electrical vehicle age, those auto-buyers fortunate enough to afford new high-end luxury vehicles are already benefiting from enhanced safety and convenience provided by automatic lane-keeping and collision avoidance, early-stages of the future’s autonomous auto guidance.  Tesla EV drivers today sometimes fold their arms on the freeway as they watch their vehicles do the steering, but they don’t do so on surface streets yet. Further, collision avoidance radar and LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), operating in conjunction with all-around car camera systems, and combined with maps (GIS, graphic information systems), are being observed in-action, in tests from San Francisco to Pittsburgh, PA, that are being conducted by various entities such as Google and Uber.

Also revealing is the Obama administration’s recent requirement on automakers to implement additional cyber-security on vehicles connected to the internet. Good thing. If we’re going to take our hands off the wheel, we want to do so secure that someone who wishes us ill, or who is just plain malicious, won’t throw our steering wheel to or fro.

It’s a brave new world that has such features as autonomous electric vehicles in it. If, using our autonomous thoughtful minds, we chose to rely on self-driving EVs in the future, we will save astronomically on the energy expended to take us from point A to point B in style and comfort, in safety and at a desirable speed, sustainably and autonomously. Who knows, in the future if you or I should suffer from a medical emergency in one of them, perhaps they’ll be able to drive us to the nearest hospital emergency room door.


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