9.16.2013

When Will Your Car Do the Driving For You? Now!

It sounds like science-fiction but it isn't. Mercedes Benz has just come out with a model that really drives by itself, the S500 Intelligent Drive. It was unveiled this week at the Frankfurt Fair.

Here it is:


And here's a fascinating video of the first road demonstration, 100 km through town and country under all sorts of road conditions:



Neat!  Serial production for most self-driving models is expected soon, for 2020. Yet Mercedes' latest version of the S-Class is practically a self-driving car. It is able to accelerate and brake by itself, even in stop-and-go traffic, and can steer itself on a lightly curved road. It will go on sale in the US next month, for a little more than $92,000. Very costly of course. But if you think about it, it's way under the price of super cars like a Ferrari or a Lamborghini and it is (almost) a normal price for a luxury, top-of-the-line car.

Why am I excited? Because this is a real breakthrough. We all know about Google's driverless car. It's been around for a while using a modified Toyota Prius but so far it had been alone in its class, almost viewed with suspicion, as a geeky thing unlikely to be practical. 

Now it's no longer alone. All the major car makers have joined the geeks and are testing autonomous car technologies, but Mercedes is the first one that has actually built a self-driving model that works - now! And it is teaming up with Nokia to improve the detailed maps needed for this type of driving.

Mercedes is hot and up there with Google.

According to the Herald Tribune's Jack Ewing (see here), auto-makers worry that the new generations are not interested in cars and spend all their money on tech stuff from smart phones to tablets rather than taking a driving license. They figure a self-driving car will fire their imagination.

Maybe. I don't belong to the new XYZ generation (or whatever you call it), but I can tell you that as a baby boomer, my imagination is fired. And I'm convinced this kind of car is going to be indispensable for senior citizens - not the ultra rich who can afford a human chauffeur, but the majority who can't and yet need one as they grow older and can't drive (or drive safely) anymore...That's a big market, the baby boomer market, and Mercedes will be hitting it at just the right time, in 2020, when the youngest boomer will have just turned 56 and the oldest 74... Good timing!

As for me, more modestly and certainly less expensively, this means I will have to adjust the final editing of my Forever Young science fiction novel to make sure self-driving cars are in the future I envision, 200 years from now. They will surely be run-of-the-mill, perhaps not for everyone, but certainly for the well-to-do...But I've added yet another twist to them: they're "hover crafts", riding on maglev suspension, high above ground where the rest of humanity grovels and gets stuck in traffic jams...Hey, my science fiction is really fiction! 
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