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Scoot over, Big Brother is taking the wheel.

Every time I get a new car (at least new to me), it always takes a while to get used to all the new bells and whistles on it. There are some I love, and some I just can’t get used to.  But who likes to curl up in bed with a good owner’s manual? I’ve had my current car for eight months, and I still haven’t pre-programmed more than two radio stations. Thank heaven for my playlists and podcasts. It took me two months to realize I had the hands-free feature with my iPhone. And that back-up camera? Fuhgeddaboudit! Maybe that’s just my trust issues.

In full disclosure, I’ve never been what marketers call an “early adapter.”  Nope, my dad raised us to believe that it was way smarter NOT to buy new “shiny things” until they’ve had a couple of years to work out the kinks. Frankly, I think he was just cheap. But apparently, his message stuck.

I will say that I am truly appreciative of how technology has truly changed car ownership. Especially the diagnostics and monitoring that tell what’s going on with my car.  25 years ago, Jeeze, that’s a quarter-century, we had to use all five of our senses to know what might be amiss besides the obvious headaches.  Today, most reputable mechanics for all us ‘out-of-manufacturer warranty’ folks can just plug a computer into our car and tell us exactly what’s up.  “Well, little lady. Looks like a fuel sensor.”   You can’t even slide by on car inspections. Believe me, I’ve tried.

The Internet of WHAT?

THINGS! Yep, the Internet of Things, IoT. The technology in everything that’s starting to blow my mind.  Hurts my aging brain just to think about it all. Yes, I’m really sounding like my mother.

Whether we like it or not, technology is changing the world exponentially fast.  The future IS here, and I find it kind of scary.  Or maybe I’m just watching too many “Black Mirror” episodes on Netflix, an addictive series that depicts a dark, twisted, “Big Data” future and the impact of all our ever-evolving apps and gadgets that we can’t seem to live without.  The show is a real binger that will creep you out as well as leave you wanting more. “Next Episode” please!

Say hello to ”automotive telematics” and User-Based Insurance (UBI).

60 to 80 percent of cars sold in 2017 are equipped with telematics. A vehicle’s ‘black box’ that not only monitors diagnostics and maintenance service (predictive maintenance), it can track what kind of vehicle we’re driving, miles are driven, behavior, and you can bet a lot more than we’ll ever know for insurance purposes. Yes, User-Based Insurance. The latest and greatest craze in auto insurance.

GOOD NEWS:  Finally, we can benefit from our good driving behavior.

BAD NEWS:  Big Brother knows you’ve been naughty behind the wheel.

It doesn’t take an actual ticket to get dinged on your insurance rates. Now, Elon Musk wants to insert a chip in our brains, if that ever happens I’ll be uninsurable!

In case you’re wondering why truckers have been on their best behavior, long-haul truckers are already being monitored with electronic devices (ELD), onboard computers and even phone apps. Vehicle inspection reports, fuel tax, speeding, idling, hard braking and all that other risky business behind the wheel– those devices are tracking every move. However, I don’t think they’re tracking those occasional hand gestures.

You thought your Fitbit knew too much?

Yep, that’s right. Welcome to automotive biometric identification systems. It’s more than just facial recognition and expected to hit the market by 2025. This somewhat intrusive technology will monitor our heart rates, fatigue and you guessed it, distracted driving. Again, good news/bad news.

GOOD NEWS:  This is bound to prevent millions of senseless accidents on the road

BAD NEWS:     For all the no-law abiding multi-taskers and speed demons, your insurance will sky-rocket.

Which brings us to autonomous cars. Fasten your seatbelts!

First things first. Before the Car sans Driver scenario comes V2X, which stands for “Vehicle to EVERYTHING”.  V2X is the umbrella term for a vehicle’s “mothership” of communication systems that talks to sensors and other sources through what’s deemed high-bandwidth, low-latency (lots of data/minimum delay) and high-reliability links (we hope). When you’ve got all that, you’ve laid the foundation for autonomous driving.

To me, that’s a lot of moving parts. But maybe what I don’t understand won’t bother me. Until it does.

INSERT GRAPHIC OF ALL THESE V-2-whatevers that make up the V2X (vehicle to everything) Probably the V2X in the center, and all the others around it.

V2V – vehicle to vehicle

V2I  – vehicle to infrastructure

V2P – vehicle to pedestrian

V2N – vehicle to network

Hopefully, that communication system above talks to other cars, traffic lights and parking spaces, pedestrians with smartphones (do Fitbits count?), datacenters via cellular networks, and whatever else autonomous cars should know about. We hope. Right now, most of the components are there except for high-reliability/low-latency communication systems. Those are biggies. Hence my fear.

Despite what lacking, the Self-Driving Car Race is ON!

Ready the airbags, I just read that Tesla promises to send “an over-the-air software update that will turn hundreds of thousands of vehicles into robo-carsTHIS YEAR!

GOOD NEWS:     They say self-driving cars will mean fewer accidents, less traffic congestion, save reduce carbon emissions, conserve gas, allow for more productivity

GOOD NEWS:       I, me, my body, could be just another speed bump.

I definitely want to steer clear of this first generation.  However, Tesla does say that the vehicles won’t be driving all by themselves, as drivers will “still need to be engaged at all times”. Don’t you feel better already! (SMIRK). Just Google posted videos of clowns driving these test cars and see how safe you feel. But then I’ve always been a white knucklin’ back-seat driver.

Tesla does say that it “has a fleet of hundreds of thousands of customer-owned vehicles that have been testing autonomous technology in “shadow-mode” during their normal operation.” Seems they seem pretty sure of themselves. Every touch of the steering wheel helps inform the company’s software of how to react to various scenarios.”

Bottom Line, Autopilot means “Auto-Pay-Attention” to me. But I have to say, I did drool over an awesome preview of driverless things to come.  Land Rover’s totally autonomous Discovery Vision Concept made a cameo appearance in Season 3 of Black Mirror.  A totally tricked out cop car with a killer interface that could turn every light green on their route.  Now this will get your driverless motors runnin’.

So, there you have it. A smidgen of what’s here, what’s to come, and what keeps me up at night among other things. Meanwhile, I’ll cherish my hands-free features. Keep my mind on the road and off my fancy technology, save the texts for later and pray that Google Maps gets me where I need to go. Eyes up and phones down. Drive safe out there.