HOW much automatic aid should motorists accept from their cars? Most of us might be tempted to think the more the better.
After all, automatic gearboxes, servo-assisted brakes and power steering have taken much of the grunt work out of driving. Meanwhile, traction and stability-control systems have reduced the propensity of sport-utlity vehicles to roll over. With parking and navigation assistance, drivers can focus on pedestrians and traffic rather than kerbs and maps.
Now, even more advanced driver aids are finding their way from trucks and luxury vehicles into family cars. Prominent among them are devices that warn of—and take action to prevent—potential collisions, or nudge a driver who’s drifting into an adjacent lane. Adaptive headlights peer around bends to see what’s lurking in the dark. Blind-spot detectors warn of unseen hazards approaching from behind.
Such developments suggest the driverless car can’t be far behind. Indeed, last November’s “Urban Challenge”, sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), proved that autonomous vehicles could mix in with live traffic in a typical urban environment, while executing complex manoeuvres like merging, overtaking, negotiating four-way intersections and parking.