RICHARD TRUETT

New systems amaze, but what about the joy of driving?

COMMENTARY
Richard Truett is a staff reporter for Automotive News
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DETROIT -- I often visit major suppliers to see what technologies they are working on. Recent visits to Visteon Corp. and Valeo North America threw me into a bit of a funk.

They are working to create a cloud-based, always-connected information pod. Taking a back seat is the joy of driving.

Yes, I know safety will be improved by sensor-laden cars able to "see" the road from all angles, communicate with other vehicles and apply the brakes to avoid accidents.

I can see the value in a system that Valeo is creating that enables a vehicle to automatically park itself after depositing you at the entrance of a building. Valeo's automated valet parking system is truly an amazing piece of work.

At a Valeo press event in June, an early-development version of the parking system installed in a Range Rover Evoque showed great potential.

Imagine you are on your way to a restaurant or office building and it suddenly begins raining. You don't have your umbrella. You drive up to the building's front lobby, get out, press a button on the key fob and the vehicle parks itself in the nearest non-handicap space. When you are ready to leave, you press the same button on the fob and your vehicle automatically arrives at the front door.

While automated valet parking might be nice to have, I certainly wouldn't use it often, nor would I pay much for it. I like to be involved in driving. It's something I enjoy, even if sometimes I have to actually walk to and from a parking lot.

Visteon's HMEye system uses an interior camera to track a driver’s eye movements and head direction — as shown on the monitor at right in the photo. The system aims to help the driver stay focused on the road ahead.

At Visteon, engineers are improving the human-machine interface to reduce driver distraction. Engineers are developing systems that science fiction writers probably once imagined.

One such device is called HMEye. An interior camera tracks a driver's eye movements and head direction. It enables changes to the car's controls to be made from steering wheel buttons, so eyes stay on the road at all times.

German supplier Robert Bosch GmbH has an electric clutch operating system for vehicles with manual transmissions that makes stalling obsolete.

There are dozens of electronic systems and apps that add to a car's functionality, yet detract in some way from the driving experience that I am accustomed to.

I understand why Valeo, Visteon, Bosch and other major suppliers are developing these things. But they are not for me. It's for generations of future drivers who are not yet in their teens. Suppliers are absolutely doing the right thing to develop these technologies.

My nephew Weston is 3 years old. Already he has an amazing grasp of how an iPad works. Operating complex electronic devices is second nature for Jamison and Lorna, my 7- and 9-year-old nieces. When the time comes, they will probably view the features I am resisting as cool, normal and expected.

Their daily commutes will be far safer than mine is today. But when self-driving cars are whirring down the highway and people inside are texting, e-mailing and working, the automobile will be another programmable appliance.

And that will be a sad day.

You can reach Richard Truett at rtruett@crain.com.


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