Reflecting on a decade when cars got smarter


I have lost track of how many years I have been writing this column, at least when measured chronologically. It has been perhaps eight or nine years, as time passes between inspiration, procrastination, completion and publication. However, I have not lost track of how long I have been writing this column when measured by the advance of technologies and systems that make the cars we drive so very smart.

At the start of my ‘career’ as a Traffic Technology International columnist, I can palpably recall dearly wanting, and passionately writing about, a futuristic car adorned with what was at that time dubbed ‘active safety’ – and nowadays are widely referred to as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) by those in the know, although not necessarily by marketing departments and the driving public. Regardless of ADAS’s sometimes clever or not-so-clever marketing monikers, I can now go to the dealerships of many major makes and find select models adorned with some ADAS features – and increasingly, at affordable price points.

I can recall in those early columnist days that adaptive cruise control (ACC) with perhaps some forward collision warning (FCW) functionality or a totally different lane-keeping assistance (LKA) would be ADAS nirvana, never believing that one day – today – that the ‘or’ would be replaced with an ‘and’. Nowadays, we have more and more combined ADAS functions, portending greater and greater warning, control and automation features. Indeed, as ruminated in my last column – and the focus of a host of columns from the past year or two – I look forward to a redefinition of this nirvana to be either this ever-progressing march to higher levels of automation, or, if a truly functional and resilient self-driving car comes about, a great leap forward into that brave new road of fully automated driving. Issues such as the limitations of human vigilance and transfer of control would simply (okay, with much complex engineering) be hurdled with this mighty leap. That would indeed be the ultimate nerd heaven for which we ADAS-heads can aspire.

You may wonder why I encapsulate both a retrospective and prospective view of the Smart Car column’s journey in one fell swoop. I will, with this column, take an exit ramp off this public road. Previous university and consulting employment, followed by a year-and-a-half of working as an independent consultant, has made this column-making possible. Shortly after I submit this version, my work toward a smarter car will be under the employment of a large, well-respected company, and I look forward to that. Therefore, from this point, the purportedly accessible ruminations I pen will disappear. From now on my presence will be felt in conferences, technical meetings, standards and, I hope, in the smart car you will drive. This is a good journey, and we’re only part of the way there. Happy trails.

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