Keeping driving simple is a thing of the past

"What we drive in the 21st century is also allowing technology to isolate us from the whole process of driving."

As the Christmas Season envelopes us it seems technology makes us less a part of the whole process. Christmas is a time for giving but giving in the 21st century is no more than a mouse click, tap or swipe.

Looking for the best, cheapest, most popular, highest rated is only a “google” away. Many of us will buy something without even seeing it. We will take some complete stranger’s word for it.  The one with five stars is the one I want. I am as guilty as anyone. I have chosen products based on the number of stars.

What about actually choosing something after trying it out. Touching it, seeing it live, hearing it live and making your own decision.

What we drive in the 21st century is also allowing technology to isolate us from the whole process of driving.  Somewhere along the way the powers that be decided we want vehicles that require less involvement from the driver.  It came disguised as safety features.

Features like anti lock braking systems, electronic stability control, automatic transmissions, power steering cannot even be deleted from the most basic of vehicles.  Each one of these systems purpose was designed to make driving easier and safer.  Have any of them improved the breed; ie made us better drivers?  I don’t think so.

We are now going into the era of drive by wire.  Soon there will only be software between the drivers inputs and the vehicles outputs.  The gas pedal is now only an electrical input.  Press on the pedal for full power and an algorithm determines exactly how much power to allow so no tires spin.

Cruise control will now maintain a safe distance between your’s and the vehicle ahead of you.  Try to change lanes when there is a vehicle in your blind spot and your steering will kick back at you. Don’t you dare.

Enter the new Mercedes S Class.  This vehicle is generally used as the benchmark for the future.  This car can find speed bumps and adapt its suspension to make them nearly transparent.  This car will drive for periods of time without your hands on the wheel.  Minutes can go by without any input from the driver.  Are we ready for this degree of noninvolvement?

I was lucky enough this weekend to be driving a go kart on a race course.  The experience was amazing.  Involvement at its purest.  The steering is direct. No power assist.  You are sitting on the track.  There is no suspension just the flexing of the steel frame.  Gas pedal and brake mechanically connected.  Oversteer and understeer always present.  Only your skill level between one and the other.  Consequences for mistakes? Always.

Can I still drive?  It is hard work.  It requires concentration and focus. Pure fun. No algorithms,  electronic nannies to keep you on the track.  Only a 15 year old between me and a first place finish.  Dradtz!

Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC.


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