Technology Focus – 1 Special Case Study


So now we know from the safety focus post that my car is not at the forefront of technology. Compared to today, there’s not much of a technology focus with my focus. I have cutlery that is more sophisticated. And faster probably. There’s probably an argument for me myself being more sophisticated, but I’ll leave that can of worms for another time. Technology for cars can be very impressive, but is there a danger that we may become over-reliant on it? Might this cost us more long term? Allow me to explain using just the one scenario. The art of parking:

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For some, parking is not an art at all. Certainly given some of the attempts I’ve seen, it’s work in progress at best. For some it’s a fear, particularly with cars getting larger and road space being constant. Time to introduce the Parking Sensor. This is a device which is normally fitted to the bumpers of cars. Previously, only top-end models received this but as is normal in the car world, now you and I can enjoy the benefits too.

The parking sensors use either electromagnetic or ultrasonic technology to send out signals. The signal returns when it ‘bounces’ off an object. By calculating the timing and interval for this, the system can work out how far the vehicle is from an object. The system sends a warning sound to the driver, allowing them to take appropriate action. Judging on a lot of evidence I’ve seen, drivers either don’t hear this or ignore it.

No parking sensors here and no need…

My dad has a Merc C320, from 2000. We saw this as a luxury car at the time and it is equipped as such. Leather and wood everywhere, as well as a cassette player to remind us that this car is not recent. However, it still has parking sensors on it, and like most, these sensors transmit a sound inside the cabin. My worry was that my dad until recently didn’t even bother turning his head around when he reverse parked. He relied completely on the sensors. And he was far from being alone. What if they malfunction, which is not unknown for a 20 year old machine? Electrical issues can occur in machines that age.

I once tried a Mk3 Focus at a motor-show in London. Ford were testing out a number of new technologies and one of them was self-parking. So I thought I would give it a go. I climbed aboard the automatic focus, drove past the intended parking spot, and then the Ford rep asked me to select reverse. He then selected the desired spot for the car to park, and asked me to take my hands off the steering wheel. I contemplated checking my insurance policy, but he seemed confident in the car, so I went along with his judgement.

The car reversed slowly, and completed all the necessary steering movement with me only controlling the throttle. The sensors sounded to tell me when to brake, although they didn’t have to. I was already looking backwards to make sure the worst didn’t happen. What intrigued me was that when I got out of the car, the Ford rep said I was the only person to try the system that day who had actually turned around and looked at what I was about to hit. I didn’t fully trust the system and had my fail-safe approach ready. I didn’t know whether to feel proud or scared. I’m still not sure today. A simple swivel of the head could save a lot of cash. I’ve seen too many parking incidents to ignore that.

No self steering either. I haven’t crashed parking yet…

There are many other technologies to speak about. And some of them are excellent problem solving ideas. Cruise control allows you to maintain a certain speed without pressing the accelerator. Great for long distances, particularly if the journey involves elevation changes. Engine start-stop, is brilliant for saving fuel in traffic. Although, as starting the engine consistently will drain the battery, that system shuts down after a while until the battery is replenished. Stability control keeps many drivers out of trouble, especially when road conditions and weather think otherwise.

I’m a general fan of technology. It has clearly made many lives easier, and saved many more. I even typed some of this article on a smartphone! But I do worry about over-reliance and assumption. The technology we see in our cars can be great, but what is our plan if it malfunctions? Can we afford not to have a back up? Is over-reliance as big a problem as I fear? Let me know if you think I’ve missed something. Join the family and comment below. Thanks for reading!

What are your thoughts?