Here’s a look at a piece of automated driving tech that’s beginning to pop up in new cars – Road Sign Assist. When paired with Intelligent Speed Assist (just mandated by the EU) it will be the end of us controlling our cars – and the start of being controlled by them.
That isn’t how the tech is being marketed, of course.
We’re told these are “assists,” ever-so-helpful.
In fact, they are peremptory, naggy and nudging – like an annoying backseat driver who does more than than just offer up unwanted opinions. This backseat driver is buried in you car’s dashboard – and has his hand on the wheel.
Both are controlled electronically – via drive-by-wire (and steer). Which means you don’t really control either. Not, at least, in the sense you used to, until about ten years ago. Before then – before drive-by-wire came online – you were in absolute physical control of the engine.
You pushed down on the accelerator pedal, which in turn pulled a cable that opened or closed the throttle – which caused the engine RPM to increase or fall back. The cable could possibly get stuck – or snap – but there was no electronic consciousness countermanding your inputs.
Now, there is.
Control intercession over brakes (Brake Assist) and steering (Lane Keep Assist) are filtering down even to economy-priced cars – like the 2020 Toyota Corolla I test drove last week (reviewed here).
If the car thinks you should slow down – or you haven’t signaled before attempting to change lanes – it will jump in and . . . assist you.
That is, parent, pre-empt and nudge you.
And it is going to get much more cloying, sooner – courtesy of Road Sign Assist. It ever-so-helpfully keeps track of all the traffic signage within the orbit of your vehicle, as you drive. Speed limit signs, advisory speed signs (this one’s going to be insufferable) and stop signs, etc.
For now, a helpy-helperson icon appears in the dashboard to “assist” you in noticing whatever the totem pole is. It follows that the next step will be making sure you pay proper homage to the totem pole – by strictly obeying whatever it symbolizes.
Which it will do by cutting throttle, applying brakes and countersteering – all done electrically, via drive-by-wire.
You don’t need to have 1,000 yard eyesight to see what’s coming. It is practically being shoved in our faces already. The last three new cars I test drove – including the 2019 Mazda CX-9 – come standard with or “bundle” RSA with the other cloying saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety (read: control you) tech that is becoming unavoidable in new cars.
The EU has just mandated Intelligent Speed Assist, effective with the 2022 model year – to assist you to hew to every speed limit, not just limit your speed.
It works in conjunction with – surprise – Road Sign Assist. The car sees the sign, sees (well, senses) that you are exceeding the limit – and . . . assists you by cutting the throttle, until you no longer are “speeding.”
It also has the capability to rap your fingers for exceeding advisory speed recommendations – as in curves – as well as throttle back how “aggressively” you accelerate. And brake.
This “assistance” will not be optional – something people are free to buy or not. Instead, it will – it is – being pushed as part of the suite of standard equipment – meaning, you can’t avoid it, without avoiding the new car.
This ought to raise some red flags – and would, if people could stop staring at their cell phones and agonizing over “the game.”
2022 is less than three years away.
Whatever’s in store for us has already been designed. The push from the top down to automate cars has taken on an almost frantic pitch, like the scene described by Orwell in 1984 when everyone in the Records Department had to work ’round the clock to “adjust” every reference to the War Against Eastasia, which was now (ad always had been) the War Against Eurasia.
Driver “assists” work on the same principle and are being pushed by similar (and real-life) people, for purposes exactly the same:
To get us under their control.
Behind the wheel and otherwise.
. . .
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