Talking Motors: Hitting the road in the hi-tech age is here . . .
At our desks, watching the television, at the match or a friend's wedding '“ we're always plugged in.
A couple of hundred years from now, people will look at photos from 2016 and think we evolved to have small rectangular devices growing out of our hands which must be held in front of the face.
So the car has become one of the few places to escape that constant muffled buzzing noise to warn us that InstaFace messages and videos of friends’ children doing silly things are flooding in.
But as the relentless push to digitalise everything shows no signs of going away, how does a ‘wifi road’ sound to you?
My keyboard doesn’t have emota-things yet (thankfully) but I can see the suggestion getting a long line of those ‘thumbs up’ things from a few people I know.
Those same people will probably be disappointed to know that, despite the announcement Highways England will spend £152m on harnessing new technology, it isn’t for posting selfies behind the wheel and tagging their friends at motorway junctions (I know people who would if they could, believe me).
Instead, the ‘connected corridor’, which will initially be a trial along the A2/M2 between London and Kent, could see cars and infrastructure wirelessly connected, with drivers receiving news of advanced road closures or congestion warnings … which isn’t terribly exciting news because a lot of sat navs do that now anyway.
But where the investment gets really interesting is our old friend driverless technology.
Highways England and the Department for Transport say they want to ensure trials are being undertaken for autonomous vehicles on motorways be the end of next year, to allow them to collect data on performance and ‘potential impact on capacity and operations’.
This news makes me nervous. It would appear there will be teething problems with autonomous vehicles, hence the need for a ‘trial period’, and what if all goes well and we decide if we want to go and watch a Roborace, arriving in driverless cars the way to do it?
Will people who actually want to drive their own cars be looked at sideways, like people of my persuasion who like servicing and washing their own cars? How will insurance be affected and what will it be like for people to drive alongside other cars being piloted autonomously?
If there’s an accident, will people automatically point to the human driver, saying they must be at fault? And will there be restrictions for classic car owners or vice versa? Will there be areas where cars piloted by humans and autonomous cars are not allowed to co-exist?
But there are some points to the plans which make good reading no matter which side of the fence you fall on.
Radar technology and acoustic technology at the Hindhead Tunnel in Surrey is being planned to improve breakdown detection. This could also be used to monitor traffic and notify control centres within seconds of a stationary vehicle.
And they want to investigate the use of sensors that could provide better information about the condition of roads, bridges and tunnels on the network. In the future this could allow for more targeted maintenance programmes – great news for people driving on those roads, perhaps less so for manufacturers of exhaust repair paste.
Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan said he was “committed to using innovation to benefit the millions of journeys made on England’s Strategic Road Network today and in the future.”
Which sounds well and good.
But I don’t want to be in an i Robot situation and feel out of place for wanting to indulge in the desire to take a classic car out on the road – or worse still – have that option taken away.
I had the good fortune to spend a day in London last weekend and was struck by what I saw.
It wasn’t a collection of scooters neatly parked up near Carnaby Street or anything in the Bond in Motion exhibition at the London Film Museum.
It was the number of Range Rovers mounting the pavements on both sides as they weaved through tight side streets.
Not taking into account the Ultra Low Emissions Zone, which comes into force in 2020, which will fall on diesel drivers so hard they will wish it were a ton of bricks, I can’t think why you’d want to drive a Range Rover in the capital.
London’s streets are often narrow and space is at a premium. You need a 37-point turn if you go the wrong way down any street, and that’s if you’re driving a Peel P50.
And where the roads are wide enough for four lanes of traffic, there are so many people jostling for space the traffic resembles an abandoned highway in The Walking Dead.
So having decided huge four by fours are an impractical solution to transport needs in the capital, the obvious conclusion to draw is the convoy of huge alloy wheels (these off roaders have never seen a field), blacked out windows and twin exhausts is a display of wealth by the cars’ occupants.
But there are much better ways to do this if you’ve got the surplus in your bank account.
A top of the line Range Rover costs upwards of £100,000.
You could by TWO big Healeys for that. But then again if I had just one Austin Healey 3000 I wouldn’t want to drive it around London.
Normally an advocate of getting behind the wheel, in London I genuinely wouldn’t look past the Tube.
Just about the only train service in the country you can actually rely on, there’s no point in messing about above ground.
And you simply can’t beat the oily smell left behind by a century-and-a-half of trains.