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Future Commute 3 pages: | 1 | 2 | 3 |

Article by
Maggie Villiger

Photo of heads-up display

Drivers receive information from head-up displays without removing their eyes from the road (Photo: General Motors)


Not too far down the road, the kinds of technologies Alan learned about in "Cars That Think" will be commonplace in our vehicles. Tag along on an imaginary ride in the not-too-distant future to see what a driver's life might be like before too long. All the features mentioned in this fictitious tale really are under development or available on car lots now...

Ready, set, go, it's time for the mad rush of the evening commute as performed by me at the helm of the family carpool. First stop — daycare center. I charge through the front door, lingering long enough only to pluck my own toddler from the sea of waiting children. I carry her out to the car — with no free hands, the automatic keyless entry is quite helpful. I love how the car just senses that I am nearby — ok, senses that my key fob is nearby — and considerately pops the door open for us. I fasten baby into her car seat and hit the road. Next stop — to pickup the other two kids after their sports practices.

Drawing and photo of rear parking camera

A camera in the back of the vehicle sends a clear picture of what's happening out of view behind the driver. Guide lines can help maneuver in tight spots.
(Photo: General Motors)


I reach the school with no problems. The crowded parking lot, however, is another story. I navigate toward the playing fields, inching around groups of pint-sized athletes and proud parents. I rely on the car's radar and camera object detection system to ensure I am not squashing any wayward soccer balls. I don't know how people maneuvered in this kind of tight situation before they were able to have a clear view — right on the dashboard — of what's happening behind and beside the car. I turn to my secret crutch, the rear parking assist, and follow its guiding lines on the dashboard screen, superimposed on a video image of what's behind us, as I ease into a parking spot.

The front passenger door flies open as my son and daughter tussle over who gets to sit in the front seat. I attempt to settle things with a decisive, "Claire, you are in the back. Michael, you can be in front until we pick up dad." The grumbling continues, and I see no move toward the backseat. "Claire, you're still too light to sit in the front. Remember the airbag is suppressed when you sit up here? It's just not as safe."

Airbag suppression chart

Airbag supression
(Click to enlarge)


They're used to my being a stickler for safety, and they take their assigned seats. The few times Claire has been allowed to sit in front, the airbag has turned itself off since she has not yet passed the 100 pound threshold. With the airbag suppressed she doesn't run the risk of being hurt by it in an accident, but the passenger in that seat then doesn't have the advantage of being protected by it either.

Everyone settles down and I pull out into the rush hour traffic. I sneak a peak at the dashboard screen that displays the camera picture of the sleeping baby, in her rear-facing car seat. I return my attention to the front and see Michael is fiddling with the navigation system. "So we're getting dad now right?" he asks. A route pops up on the dashboard screen with Iggy's Ice Cream prominently displayed as a stop along the way. "Looks like this is the best way to go," he says innocently. "And we can stop off and get a snack." We do not have time for a non-nutritious ice cream stop. "I don't think so," I tell them, briskly tapping the screen for an alternate route. "We are going to take the highway, which will be quicker, and we will be home sooner for dinner." Groaning ensues. I silently wonder when was the last time I looked at a map that wasn't part of the computerized navigation system. There really isn't much point in planning ahead since this ingenious computer always knows where we are and how to get where we want to go — even where the closest ice cream shops are along the way. "How's the traffic on the highway?" I ask the computer. "Traffic is heavy but moving well along your route," it answers in its efficient voice.

3 pages: | 1 | 2 | 3 |

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