The rac­ing leg­end weighs in on the fu­ture of driv­ing.

ELLE Man (Canada) - - TREND -

fully au­ton­o­mous car no later than 2019, while Volvo and Audi boast cars that can brake, ac­cel­er­ate and steer for them­selves in high­way traf­fic. And, of course, there is Google, with its fleet of smi­ley-faced au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles that have al­ready clocked more than a mil­lion road miles along the streets of Moun­tain View, Calif., and Austin, Texas.

“Fully au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy is go­ing to be a re­al­ity in the next five years, maybe even faster,” says Ken Wash­ing­ton, Ford’s vice-pres­i­dent of re­search and ad­vanced en­gi­neer­ing. “So what hap­pens when the con­ver­sa­tion shifts from ‘fun to drive’ to ‘fun to ride’?” he asks. “The role of the driver is go­ing to fun­da­men­tally shift.” Aside from ques­tions of whether th­ese ar­ti­fi­cial-in­tel­li­gence-pow­ered ma­chines will join to­gether and try to kill us all, Ter­mi­na­tor- style (they won’t, says Wash­ing­ton), the idea of let­ting a car do the driv­ing poses some in­ter­est­ing ques­tions for driver and pedes­trian alike. Top of Wash­ing­ton’s mind is not if the tech­nol­ogy will work but whether peo­ple are ac­tu­ally go­ing to be ready to trust it.

The next day, sit­ting be­hind the wheel of a new Ford Fu­sion, I get a chance to de­cide for my­self. Watch­ing the steer­ing wheel whirl around on its own while the car slides it­self pre­cisely into the park­ing spot is a bit dis­con­cert­ing at first, but my trep­i­da­tion doesn’t last long. I’m a de­cent driver but not a great par­al­lel parker—it of­ten takes me two or three tries to get it right. I quickly re­al­ize that I’d be happy to never have to man­u­ally par­al­lel park a car again. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Self-park­ing tech­nol­ogy has been around in some form or an­other for a decade, but Ford has been ag­gres­sively rolling it out across its fleet, mak­ing it more widely avail­able than ever be­fore.

Of course, let­ting a car park for you is one thing; hav­ing a nap while the car drives you to work through ur­ban grid­lock is an­other en­tirely. Per­haps I’m too trust­ing, too ready to let the ma­chines take over things I once did for my­self, but when I think of the ways that smart tech­nol­ogy has al­ready made life bet­ter—i hardly re­mem­ber life be­fore voice recog­ni­tion on my smart­phone—i am more than will­ing to give it the ben­e­fit of the doubt. Google’s self-driv­ing cars are a strong in­di­ca­tion of what the fu­ture will hold. Dur­ing years of test­ing, the com­pany has re­ported just 16 col­li­sions, only two caus­ing in­jury. In both sce­nar­ios (and fully 12 of the 16 crashes), the Google car was rear-ended by a hu­man driver. Whether the driver was tex­ting or day­dream­ing seems be­side the point. Hu­mans are emo­tional and dis­tractible—and we have an in­creas­ingly com­mon ten­dency to be look­ing at our phones when we should be do­ing other things.

A world where con­nected bi­cy­cles and self-driv­ing cars al­low us to fo­cus on the road or, bet­ter yet, take us out of the driver’s seat en­tirely seems like a safer, bet­ter one for all—not to men­tion one with fewer dented fend­ers. Would I com­pletely trust an au­ton­o­mous car to­day? No. But this type of change hap­pens slowly; it will likely shift from adap­tive cruise con­trol to high­way au­to­ma­tion to fully au­ton­o­mous driv­ing over the course of years. We’re skep­ti­cal of th­ese robot chauf­feurs now, and for good rea­son, but soon, in five, 15 or 50 years, we’ll won­der how on earth peo­ple ever felt safe on streets full of cars driven by hu­mans.

“Hy­brid cars. You can see that in mo­tor rac­ing, they’re mak­ing great strides in For­mula 1 and Le Mans, where they have the ul­ti­mate in per­for­mance hy­brids. They’re shelling out up to 950 horse­power and have great per­for­mance but also fuel mileage.”

“I think the dan­ger of com­pla­cency is al­ways there. The cars

of to­day are so smooth, you can be go­ing 80 or 90 miles an hour and be­fore

you know it some­thing hap­pens. The speed mag­ni­fies the sit­u­a­tion. But that’s our re­spon­si­bil­ity to be aware of that. You can’t fault progress if we fail as hu­man be­ings. Let’s con­trib­ute to safety. All

of us can, ev­ery sin­gle day.”

“That’s the only thing that will not cap­ture me what­so­ever. I think those are for peo­ple who can­not drive. There’s

a race driver, Sam Sch­midt, who was in­jured and is quadriplegic and Chevro­let

had him at In­di­anapo­lis in a Corvette, driv­ing by com­puter at 80 miles an hour. How won­der­ful is that? For those of us who are lucky enough that we can drive, we’ll do it the man­ual way.”

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