Bad Love?

February 14, 2006

A lot of times, when I read about the newest wonderful car technology, I remain unmoved. I do not yearn for in-car entertainment systems and personalized seat settings. They're nice, but they're more like a crush: pleasurable for a time but the passion eventually fades. However, after reading a recent story in IT World, Google, Siemens to help navigate and park cars, I feel some serious lust in my heart for a car that helps me park.

It's not that I actively hate parking, because I don't. It's that parking involves the need to see all around the car and keep track of where your car is in relation to other vehicles and obstacles, some of which may be moving, and occasionally that feels a bit like juggling chainsaws. Also, I live in the land of pickups and SUVs so my little sedan is already at a visibility disadvantage. The Park Mate sounds awfully attractive. Now this is a car feature I could have a long-term relationship with.

Learned Helplessness
There's one other reason that this appeals to me so much—it's helping you do something you cannot do yourself. I don't care how good your situational awareness is, you cannot maintain a simultaneous 360° view around your vehicle. A targeted sensor suite around your car can give you the kind of information that isn't available from just eyes and ears.

I do wonder about how this, and other proposed car safety systems will alter our behavior. I worry that these systems will encourage people to relax their own defensive driving skills in favor of relying entirely on the technology in their car. If we know that our car will tell us if someone is in our blind spot, will we still bother to check? What do you think?

Better Navigation
The other technology mentioned is Volkswagen and Nvidia's enhanced in-vehicle navigation system, which is a beautiful illustration of combining various data sets into a single integrated view. I know that I've found Google Maps' hybrid view, where a map and satellite images are combined, to be more helpful that a more traditional map's representation if I'm driving to somewhere new. This prototype navigation system, with its GPS, graphics, and interface to Google Earth sounds very slick yet practical. But..uh...let's just be friends, OK?

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