Pretentious pilot

Human and machine attempt mutually satisfying interface

ASH WESTERMAN

AS A futurist, Iíll admit it: I really suck.

I remember when SMS was introduced, and everyone got in a lather over the fact they could faff about on a numeric key pad to send each other messages. ďWhat?!Ē I scoffed incredulously. ďWhy would anyone bother with that hassle when they can hit one speed-dial key and actually speak to the person? Rubbish idea. Will never catch on.Ē

So, yeah, a few bazillion text messages later, I clearly got that one wrong.

I flag this so you know that anything I predict about automotive future tech, trends and autonomy is probably going to be hopelessly misguided, and if you can be bothered to check back here in a dozen or so years, youíll probably see that borne out.

But Iím going to come out with it anyway: autonomous cars are coming, and the technology stands to split the driving world into two groups. There will be those who enjoy lounging around on their phones as the computers and sensors look after the driving, and thereíll be the rest of us, who sit there, eyes peeled into the traffic, shouting and swearing at the car with nerves jangled, utterly convinced we could be doing a better job of this complex task called driving.

I know itís early days in the long march to the projected Level 5 autonomy that will make us nuffies redundant at the wheel, but spending time with the Pilot Assist system in the Volvo recently has forced me to face up to what Iíve probably suspected all along: Iím just too much of a control freak in a car to want to hand over the reins. On a run up the M1 towards Newcastle recently, my internal monologue urging the car to obey my commands and not its own brainpower nearly sent the computers and sensors off to lodge a complaint about workplace bullying.

By current standards, the adaptive radar cruise control works well, and does give a level of protection from inadvertently speeding. But fact is I donít find it relaxing or in any way beneficial to leave the car to do the slowing down and speeding up. Iím in the driverís seat; I canít take a nap, so surely I may as well do it? I do it better, and it keeps my mind from wandering down worm-holes.

The assisted steering, too, brings mixed feelings. On a mostly straight or only gently deviating expressway, it holds the lane securely and can be useful to allow your eyes a break from the road, to take in the broader surroundings; perhaps admire some excellent roadside billboards or fields of cows, if you happen to be an enthusiast of either (Iím both).

Itís also all a bit Ďgee-whiz, hereís the future!í when you go fully hands-off, but the car only allows you to do this for 30 seconds, so whatever it is you need to do with two hands, you need to get it done smartly.

And if the road really curves, the car runs uncomfortably close to the centre divider or side Armco before the steering takes a series of small, reactive bites, rather than tracing a smooth, predictive arc.

Thatís when you know you really can do this steering thing better than a machine, at least for now. Anyway, letís check back in 2030 to see how awesome autonomy is, and how I love it, and how hopelessly wrong I was ... again.

Case closed for neat freaks

The covers for the centre console storage remind me of a high-end desk, maybe belonging to some extremely organised person who only ever has the items they need visible at any one time, then neatly put it all away each evening. I am so not that person normally, but the elegant design and feeling I get when entering the car and finding it all neat and closed up is actually bringing me closer to the efficient, tidy human I would like to be.

VOLVO V90 CROSS COUNTRY

WEEK 14 34 44 3 0 0 2 4 4 5 3 Date acquired: July 2017 Price as tested: $111,500 This month: 379km @ 10.1L/100km Overall: 1074km @ 9.5L/100km 34 44 URBAN COUNTRY SPORTS FAMILY MOTORWAY