Monday, November 23, 2009

The Big Brother Car

Continuing on a recent theme about the technological progression of automobiles, I'd like to share prediction that I made a few years ago at my job. Once again, it may be surprising to realize how close we are to this kind of thing.

It's obvious that cameras are ubiquitous on cell phones at this point. A few years ago, they became so cheap that manufacturers began just throwing them on every phone, and now it's a cost-of-entry feature. Sure, higher resolution and zoom are a bit more expensive and rare, but a basic camera has got to be dirt cheap. And it doesn't really cost more to turn it into a video camera, since it's really just a matter of software.

And now, of course, these devices are making their way onto cars. Back-up cameras, once a novelty, are now a common option an any new vehicle that costs over $25,000. Infiniti has started using multiple cameras to create its Around View Monitor system, which creates a complete birds-eye view of the car's surroundings.

With such a preponderance of cameras on modern cars, it seems a logical leap that they would begin to face forward, and be constantly recording on a loop. It would be the black box of cars, and I can imagine the insurance industry is already lobbying for this. There would no longer be a question of who was at fault in an accident, especially with the availability of data from the rest of the car's systems on brake application, speed, etc.

This isn't a slam dunk. There will be a lot of people on the civil liberties side opposed to this move. And there's certainly a reason why cars aren't already technologically limited to maximum speeds by law. But our obsession with safety will always increase, and if we decide that we want to get unsafe drivers off the roads at all costs, this would be one way to do it.

I by no means offer a full endorsement of this direction. But as a driver with a very safe record, and who prides myself of my defensive driving skills, it doesn't sound like the worse thing in the world. I fully believe that American drivers tend to be woefully under-trained, and the European system of a more rigorous licensing process (if not the expense that goes with it) is appealing to me. Having recently returned from Germany, where I got to experience the Autobahn, and true lane discipline, my lament for our chaotic roads is ever stronger.

But we shall see if the crash video recorder will ever gain credence in this country, or if our traditional need for liberty above all else will prevail.

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