MIT’s smart car system uses technology to avoid collisions, but while it’s a lot smarter than Google’s driverless cars, it could still end up creating bad drivers.
MIT researchers developed a semi-autonomous co-pilot system meant to help drivers out of tough spots. The system uses a camera, laser rangefinder and an algorithm to calculate danger and help drivers out of dangerous situations.
Unlike Google’s driverless smart cars, which use even more advanced technology but cede all steering responsibility to software, MIT’s steering system keeps humans in control of the vehicle unless an emergency arises. This is good because the drivers will be paying attention to the road when an obstacle comes up, and MIT says the system is so subtle that drivers may not even realize the car is taking over and making changes without the driver’s input.
At the same time, drivers learn from their mistakes, and if MIT’s system keeps them out of harm’s way automatically, it will help motorists out in the immediate situation but will also prevent them from understanding how to act if a similar obstacle arises in the future.
Of course, if the driver continues operating only cars equipped with MIT’s system, they may never need to learn these skills. Since most cars aren’t outfitted with this kind of system, learning to drive under those circumstances could prove riskier than simply not having a co-pilot system.
And even if cars adopt this kind of co-piloting system as standard equipment, they will be vulnerable to computer glitches and bugs. MIT’s researchers noted their system fell prey to bugs on several occasions during the test run. And if the system fails and the driver is not ready to steer on their own, an even more risky scenario may arise.
Even though distracted driving crashes continue to plague the country, big companies are eagerly pursuing car innovations that promise to help, but may actually exacerbate the situation. Cars are becoming the new smartphones, equipped with the latest in technology and connectivity, but the latest bells and whistles may come at a cost.
For example, Microsoft’s Connected Car platform uses Kinect and a huge array of other entertainment features under the guise of making cars more interactive. Even though some of the features on Connected Car are meant to help drivers do a better job behind the wheel, the platform could also distract drivers’ attention from the road.
And even something like Google’s driverless car ramps up the potential for distracted driving by telling drivers they can sit back while the car does the steering for them, which could easily be interpreted as an invitation to text or otherwise take their eyes off the road.
Even though MIT’s system is an improvement on the more comprehensive smart car solutions unveiled recently, it still shifts responsibility from driver to machine, and may end up causing a freefall in driving skills, whose ripple effects over time could prove fatal if the system fails.