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Archive for April, 2018

Mercedes-Benz X-Class For The Tradies Is Here.

Along with German sibling Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz now offers a four door utility vehicle. Called the X-Class it’s got a starting price of $45,490 plus on roads. With an effective trickle style media campaign underway there’s already over 8000 registrations of interest in their new vehicle. As is to be expected, M-B will offer an almost bewildering range of variants. There’s will be a choice of two models called the X 220d and X250d, two diesel engines offering either 120kW or 140kW, a six speed manual for each or a seven speed auto for the 250d.
The 220d will be given either a rear wheel or all wheel drive system, with the 250d coming in AWD only. A high output V6 will be available by the end of 2018, with 190kW and 550Nm of torque.
There will be three trim levels: Pure, Progressive, and Power, designed to appeal to three distinct lifestyles and working groups. Underneath will be the tried and true, and fettled for Australian roads, double wishbone front and multi-link rears, with both ends riding on coil springs. This aims to provide a harmonious balance of safety with any load and a comfortable ride.

Safety won’t be an issue with the X-Class receiving a five star ANCAP rating thanks to seven airbags, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Lane Keeping Assist, plus a 360 degree camera in the Power and optionable on the Progressive.It’ll have a significant on-road presence with a 5340mm length, 1920mm width and 1829mm height. The front end features a stand-out Mercedes-Benz emblem inside a twin louvre grille, a M-B family look to the lower front bar, and a powerful stance at the rear.The tray will hold a standard Australian spec pallet and towing of up to 3500 kilograms is factored in. Whilst working hard it’ll cosset driver and passengers in three trim levels inside including two leather and two roof lining colours.The Pure will be aimed at the working driver and will roll on 17 inch steel wheels. They’ll be able to access media via a seven inch touchscreen. The Progressive driver has 17 inch alloys, colour coded bumpers, heat insulating glass in the windscreen, and Garmin integrated navigation through the seven inch touchscreen.Power drivers will have their new ute fitted with 18 inch alloys, man made leather interior, parking assist via M-B’s PARKTRONIC system, and an eight speaker digital audio system.
A range of option packs will be available across the range for the 2018 Mercedes-Benz X-Class.

https://www.facebook.com/MercedesBenzVansAustralia/ and @mercedesbenzvans_au on Instagram can be followed for more information as well as contact Mercedes-Benz dealerships.

Is Your Car Winter-Ready?

Lake Mountain Road, Vic.

It might not quite be winter yet, but we have passed the autumn Equinox, which means that the time when the sun is up is shorter than the time when it’s down. This means that it’s time to think ahead and get your car ready for winter. Because there’s no point in getting ready for something if it’s already come and too late, right?

One thing we can be thankful for is that we don’t have to go through quite so extensive preparations for winter as they do in, say, Sweden or Canada… especially if you live in the northern bits of Australia when winter comes as welcome relief from the intense summer heat. However, the southern states and territories can get problems with frost and snow from time to time, and everybody gets things wetter and rainier (except in the very far north in places like Darwin, who have their rainy monsoon period during the summer).

As things are going to get wetter, the most important thing you need to do to get your car winter-ready is to check your tyres.  First of all, they need to have plenty of tread on them, as it’s the tread that channels out the water so you still get plenty of grip.  When it comes to tyre styles, there’s a bit of a trade-off, as having lots and lots of channels means that you can pump lots of water out – and a tyre needs to shift about 6 litres per second in average rainfall at open road speeds – but the problem is that lots of little raised bits wear out more quickly when it’s dry… and nobody wants the hassle of changing tyres every time the weather goes from wet to dry and back again.  The best tyres for driving in the wet are the ones with the directional treads (lots of stacked V shapes) and asymmetrical tyres, although you can’t rotate asymmetrical tyres like you can with the directional ones.  Directional ones look nicer, too!

Tyre pressure is also important to check when the weather goes from hot to cold. This is because air temperature affects tyre pressure, so when the mercury goes down, a tyre that was just right may now be underinflated.  If you remember your high school physics, the hotter a gas gets, the more it expands and the greater the pressure. When the gas cools, then the gas contracts and the pressure decreases.  It’s important to check your tyre pressure at all times, but if the temperature’s changed (or if we’ve had a cold snap), then it pays to check.

The next thing that’s important to deal with is to check the windscreen wipers.  Winter means more rain for everybody except the far north folk, and this means that your wipers are going to see a lot of action. They won’t shift the water and keep your visibility decent if they are in bad condition.  New wiper blades don’t cost the earth and changing them is a job that you can easily do yourself, so there’s no excuses.

While you’re looking at the windscreen and the wipers, this might be a good time to ensure that your windscreen is nice and clean. The angle of the sun will be that little bit lower in the evenings and the mornings, especially the further south you go, so sunstrike and glare can be a problem, especially if your windscreen is filthy. Give it a good clean and top up the fluid for your window wiper fluid.

The next thing is your lights. It’s going to be darker, especially if your state does the Daylight Savings thing (and consider yourself lucky if it doesn’t because it’s a pain). Make sure that all of your lights are working well, including the fog lights. Check that the angles of your headlights on dip and on full beam are angled correctly.

The last thing to get the car mechanically ready for winter is to check the battery.  Your battery is going to get more of a workout, what with the extra demands of heating and lighting.  Top it up with distilled water if needed (tap water is often chlorinated or have other minerals that don’t play nicely with battery acid, so don’t use this).  Check the terminals for corrosion and clean off any greenish bits around the terminals caused by the acid. The best way to do this is with baking soda (which neutralises the acid and will fizz), an old toothbrush and rubber gloves to protect your hands, followed by a good rinse with warm water.  If your battery is getting on the ancient side, then change it. Few things are as miserable as waiting in a freezing cold car on a nasty day for the breakdown guys to come and jump-start your battery.

These steps will help keep your car winter-ready, but don’t forget you and your passengers when preparing your car for winter.  Having the right items stashed away can make a real difference, especially if you have to wait in a parked car for ages for any reason on a nasty cold day, or if some idiot who DIDN’T check their tyre condition skids into your rear end, meaning you have to wait for the breakdown team.  Most modern cars have plenty of useful storage space for all sorts of odds and ends – one particularly useful one is found on the Skoda Superb , which has a special compartment for an umbrella that allows it to drain when wet.  If you own one of these sedans, make the most of this feature!

Here’s the list of things that I’d have in my car to make sure that I can cope, even when the weather swings wildly or gets nasty and cold (on top of other staples like hand sanitiser, snacks and a first aid kit).

  • A chamois leather or microfibre cloth for wiping down the inside of the windscreen. Sometimes, the demister just doesn’t work fast enough or there’s grime on the inside of the windscreen that is causing visibility problems with the lower angle of the sun. Rather than using your sleeve and getting wet (which I have done in emergencies), use a nice soft cloth kept for the purpose.
  • Something to keep the rain off. This could be an umbrella or a raincoat – you can get some nice little compact ones that tuck away in a little bag. This stops you getting all soggy if a downpour decides to descend just as you’re pulling up at the petrol pump and there’s no shelter between your car, the pump and/or where you have to pay (been there, done that).
  • It can take the heaters a while to get going on a cold morning, as they use excess engine heat to heat the cabin. Cold fingers are stiffer and less responsive, so keep your little pinkies warm until the heater sorts its life out.  The obvious place to keep them is… the glovebox.
  • A polar fleece or jumper. It was a nice day when you started out but a southerly buster has roared in.  Or you have to turn the heaters off thanks to that flat battery (or to avoid flattening it).  Keeping half your wardrobe in your car like my husband did when I first met him probably isn’t ideal, but having something to pull on often comes in handy.
  • A blanket or throw. If you have to take kids or passengers who have to wear thinner clothes (formal gowns, dance gear) or who are a bit damp (after sports practice) and cranking up the heater would make things far too hot for you even with a dual-zone climate control, then having a blanket handy for bare knees or off-the-shoulder tops is a nice touch.  A blanket is also more easily washed than your car upholstery in the case of muddy people.  Plus you can use it for impromptu picnics.

Safe and happy driving, no matter what the weather is!

 

Is It Worth Holden On?

A recent post to Private Fleet’s facebook page has given rise to plenty of passionate, robust, thought provoking discussion. The subject? Holden and the new Commodore.

It seems there’s a couple of factors that have sparked what appears to be mostly “against” comments; largely, the fact there’s no V8 and that it’s front wheel drive. Yes, we know there’s the all wheel drive, but that’s only available with the V6. Only occasionally does the fact it’s no longer a locally manufactured product crop up, such as this: ” Doesn’t matter if designed in Australia, what mattered is assembled in Australia so that Australians have jobs. Is it any wonder our welfare bill is going up. Now most of car price goes overseas just like a lot of our income tax does.”

And that is a fair point. Harking back to our interview with then head of PR at Holden, Sean Poppitt, he’d said that workers were being as much assistance as possible to find different roles or be given a payout once manufacturing ceased. But it did mean that the manufacturing side of the skill-set workers had has either been lost or relocated to an area that’s not using that skill-set.

But back to the car itself. It seems that many feel that their loyalty has been questioned by Holden’s decision to shut shop and continue with the nameplate. Again harking back to Poppitt, he said that the reason the name was kept WAS because of feedback from Commodore owners.
Loyalty can also give rise to misguided faith, as seen here: “Serves them right, close Australian factories and still have the hide to call imported cars a Holden and think we won’t notice.” This could very easily be seen as overlooking all BUT the VF Commodore from Holden were and had been imported cars for a couple of decades at least, as opposed to the 1970s with Toranas, HQ through to HZ Kingswoods and the Commodore VB and VC being built here.

Then there’s the look of the ZG. Somewhat smaller overall than the VF, with looks more similar to Japanese maker Mazda’s 6 than the bloky, broad-shouldered, VF, there’s been comments about how it doesn’t look like what we’ve had over forty years: “The car is ugly and does not resemble a Commodore and the once loyal consumers are turning to superior Japanese and european manufacturers to get what they want.”

Let’s look at this in a bit more detail. The VB through to VK were effectively the same, before a re-skin for the VL. Then there was the complete overhaul for the VN, a bare facelift for the VP, before the VR and VS. Along came the VT and VX, then the facelifted VY and VZ. Where could we say the VT resembled the VB or the VY resembled the VL?

Regardless of the opposing points of view it’s clear that a substantial amount of disquiet is out there in regards to the ZG Commodore. As the four words used sagely go: only time will tell.

Anniversary For Holden Maven Gig.

Imagine being able to trial a job for a month to decide if you liked the conditions, pay and hours, with so many new ways of working through the sharing economy, why shouldn’t this be possible? Holden agreed, so they launched Maven Gig, a car-sharing service that puts power into the hands of the driver.
Since launching a year ago, Maven Gig has achieved significant growth as more Australians turn to freelancing and the sharing economy to generate income and look for flexible ways to get on the road faster. As the personal mobility solution for members of the freelance economy celebrates its first anniversary, Maven Gig has reached a major milestone with its 1000th car hitting the road.
“We’ve seen massive changes to how our customers work and live, and we are embracing the challenge to offer the type of tailored experiences that people want and expect in every facet of their life. Maven Gig is just one way that we are creating new solutions that go beyond just a car, it gives people the power to choose how they want to drive and work,” said Matt Rattray-Wood, General Manager of Maven Australia.
“Freelance work and side hustles are becoming the norm as the public embrace new ways to work, and it’s incredibly exciting that as a car company we have the opportunity to be able to expand into this space. Maven Gig allows members to earn money and enjoy all the benefits of car ownership, all on their own terms.”
Maven Gig gives members access to a wide range of brand new or near new Holden vehicles such as the Trax, Astra hatch and sedan, and the seven seat Captiva. Drivers get unlimited kilometers, 24/7 roadside assistance, comprehensive car insurance and scheduled servicing all included in the rental cost. They can easily swap the vehicles depending on their work or needs.
Matt said the automotive industry was evolving at lightning speed and Holden and Maven intended to be at the forefront of this expanding market.
“With 1000 active members across Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide, Australians are embracing this service and we are looking at new ways that we can expand our offering.”
“This first year has shown us that there is a strong appetite for our service in Australia, as we look to the future we are diving deeper into the sharing side of the business, exploring apps and what other opportunities there are to provide new mobility solutions for businesses and individuals.”
For more information click here Holden Maven Gig
With thanks to Holden Corporate Communications.

The Focus Is On The New From Ford.

Ford Australia will bring the most advanced, highly equipped and freshly styled Ford Focus to Australian customers in late 2018. The new German-made Ford Focus will bring the latest safety, technology, and European sophistication to more Australians looking for a dynamic and practical passenger car.Ford Australia CEO and President, Graeme Whickman said: “We already enjoy highly-sophisticated and praised Fords from Europe, which include the current Focus ST and Focus RS models – now, our state of the art plant in Germany will be the single-source for the entire Focus range.”

The first vehicle to be built on Ford’s clean-sheet C2 global platform, the new Ford Focus sports a sophisticated new chassis with advanced driving technologies with the goal of providing an energetic, engaging and rewarding fun-to-drive experience with increased cabin and powertrain refinement.The all-new Ford Focus continues the tradition of being a groundbreaking, standard setting vehicle in terms of safety, technology and value for money by offering a host of advanced features in an stylish package. Focus will have Autonomous Emergency Braking with Night-time Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection as standard across the range. This technology is designed to detect people in or near the road ahead, or who may cross the vehicle’s path. The system automatically applies the brakes if it detects a potential collision and the driver does not respond to warnings; is now also designed to detect cyclists and functions in the dark using light from the headlamps.

Focus will also come standard with a Rear wide-view camera, offering a near-180 degree view to the vehicle’s rear for improved visibility when reversing from parking spaces or driveways. Focus also introduces optional features previously only seen on high-end offerings, such as Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) now enhanced with Stop & Go for effortlessly negotiating stop-start traffic. ACC with Stop & Go helps the Focus maintain a comfortable driving distance from vehicles ahead and adjusts the vehicle speed using information from the on-board navigation system or as it senses changes in traffic conditions. ACC works at speeds up to 200km/h.The new optional Stop & Go feature is designed to bring the vehicle to a complete halt when it detects stopped traffic using up to 50 per cent of total braking force, and automatically pull away if the stopping duration is less than three seconds. For stopping durations greater than this, the driver can push a steering wheel button or gently apply the accelerator to pull away.The Ford Focus will offer a choice of fuel efficient and advanced engines, as well as a new quick-shifting eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission. Two engines will be the core of the Focus range; an entry-level 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine and a new 1.5-litre EcoBoost. The EcoBoost 1.5-litre is a turbocharged three-cylinder that develops high torque at low rpm for greater drivability, with advanced construction for improved efficiency. A combination of port fuel injection and direct fuel injection helps deliver high power and responsiveness alongside enhanced fuel-efficiency, with a particular increase in fuel-efficiency under light engine loads. This is further enhanced by Ford’s industry-first cylinder deactivation application for a three-cylinder powerplant.Mated to this engine is an intelligent eight-speed torque-convertor automatic transmission. This quick shifting and intuitive transmission features Adaptive Shift Scheduling (ASS). ASS identifies hard cornering, uphill and downhill gradients and adjusts the gearshifts accordingly, resulting in a more stable, engaging and refined driving experience.

More details about the forthcoming Ford Focus including pricing will be released closer to the expected launch date.

With thanks to Ford Australia.

Private Fleet Car Review: 2018 Suzuki Swift Sport Manual and Auto.

Suzuki has had a long history with small hatches that have sporting pretensions. Every iteration of the Swift is warmly received, warmly reviewed and leads to high expectations for the next model. And so it was for the 2018 version. The 2018 Suzuki Swift Sport also…sports…a couple of noticeable changes.Suzuki have gone to their parts bin and slotted in their poky 1.4L BoosterJet four cylinder petrol engine. With 103kW and 230Nm it doesn’t sound like there’s a lot of oomph, but remember it is just 1400cc in size. There’s the added extra of a six speed auto to back up the venerable six speed manual. In a car weighing around the 1000kg mark the engine and transmission combination adds up to be a sparkling performer. At $25490 and $27490 plus ORCs it’s well priced and comes with a decent range of standard equipment as well.The exterior of the Sport goes a step further than the already worked over Swift. There’s faux carbon fibre side skirts, a solid looking rear valance panel, and a jut jawed front end with more in your face attitude than the standard. Even the rear door handles are buried in radar absorbing black and mounted high in the C pillar. It’s about the same physical size as the previous model, with a total length of just 3890mm, width of 1735mm, and a petite 1495mm high, yet weighs less as well (970kg manual, 990kg auto). With a squat stance thanks to the low height and broad for its size track, the Swift Sport looks able to take on any tarmac surface.The Sport’s suspension is hard. Harder in the auto was the feeling, but not by much over the manual. It sometimes felt as if a rear corner was being raised when punted through some corners in both. However it also meant that on tight and twisting roads the Sport can be absolute thrown hard into them and will sit flat and confident. The steering is an extension of the driver’s arms too, with instant response and the front tracking almost like a military helmet and nose-gun system. The superb 195/45/17 rubber contributes to that utter adhesion too. Brakes? Like the steering, they’re an extension. Think how much stopping you want, press, and receive.If there’s a weak link in the drive train it is, unusually, the manual. The clutch pedal feels too soft, with no real resistance, and the gear selector is the same. It’s rubbery, doesn’t feel as if the gate mechanism has the schnick schnick expected. Oh, it does the job well enough if it’s not rushed, as unhurried, fluid, motions will select the gear all the time, every time. It simply doesn’t feel sporty.The auto, gawd help me, is the complete opposite. Decisive, clear in its intent, assertive, smooth, and delivering on every promise, the auto is pretty much everything a driver of a sports oriented hatch could want. The gear selector has no manual option too, that’s left up to the steering column mounted paddle shifts. Power down, and it’s bam bam bam. Just beautiful.Inside there’s a pair of snug sports seats up front, standard seats at the rear, devil red trim contrasting with the charcoal interior plastic. The driver’s dash dials are a bronzed hue and glow a deep red at night. Smartly, for a right hand drive market, Suzuki have fitted the Start/Stop button up on the right side of the dash and in clear view of the driver’s eye. The touchscreen is standard and comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.Being a small car it’s no surprise the cargo space is on the petite side at 265L, and with the rear seats folded, increases to a more useful but not huge 579L. There’s small numbers for the engine, but good small. Although the fuel thimble is just 37L the consumption stretches that size. I finished on 5.9L/100 km, and that’s just about on the money from Suzuki’s quoted fuel figure of 6.1L/100km combined.There’s a good safety package on board however there’s no driver’s kneebag, autonomous emergency braking, and NO parking sensors at all. Not a one. Nor is the Hill Start Assist in the manual yet the auto receives it. Ummm, ok then.At The End Of The Drive.
It’s truly rare, as a supporter and firm believer of a non-self shifter, that I will prefer the auto option. But here, in the 2018 Suzuki Swift Sport, it’s a no brainer. 2018 Suzuki Swift Sport specs is where to find out more.

The Top Seven Things Autonomous Cars Can’t Handle

 

My  last post had some rather grim news to do with autonomous cars (aka driverless cars) not quite doing what they are supposed to do.  That was an example of things going badly wrong with the sensor systems that are supposed to make driverless cars so much safer and better than real live humans.  However, on a slightly lighter note, there are quite a few things that most of us drivers handle sometimes daily without much fuss that send autonomous cars into a full-on wobbly.

 

#1. Kangaroos

OK, so the design teams working with Volvo’s autonomous cars in Sweden had it all sorted for the sort of large animals that are likely to hang around on roads in Scandinavia.  The sensors can handle moose, elk and deer, detecting the beasties and stopping the car in time. However, it’s a different story down here in Australia.  The system just can’t cope with kangaroos, which are large animals that we’re likely to get on country roads – they’re certainly the large animals involved in most animal-related crashes.  You see, the system doesn’t see an animal, recognise it and estimate the distance and take appropriate action the way a human does.  The system uses the ground as a reference point to estimate the distance between the animal and the machine… and roos don’t stay on the ground when they’re on the move.  The sensors also have trouble recognizing a kangaroo as a kangaroo because from the perspective of a computer, a kangaroo in motion and a roo resting quietly beside the road are completely different shapes and look like totally different things.  Then you’ve got the problem with roos that human drivers have to cope with: the fact that they can get a top speed of 70 km/h and can seemingly explode out of nowhere right into your path.  If the roo has been behind a bush or something, then the sensors can’t see it and you can’t see it, so you’d better have roo bars fitted.

#2 Car Washes

Some people get a little bit phobic about those automated car washes, although others enjoy them.  There’s always that little moment when you see the big whirling brushes descend and you hope like mad that the sensors telling them when to stop aren’t going to fail, crushing the top of your vehicle, shattering your windscreen and thrashing you with hundreds of little rubber whips.  But what happens when an automatic car wash meets an autonomous car?

Well, an autonomous car can get into the car wash without any problems.  However, the vigorous action of the washer plus all the soapy foam don’t agree well with the sensors, so getting out of the car wash and driving on may be another story.  You see, the sensors have to be clear of any grime or debris to work properly and if there’s soap left on them, they can’t see.  And there is soap left on them afterwards.  At worst, the car wash knocks the sensors off or damages them, which makes for a very, very expensive fix.

You have to take your pick: is washing your car by hand every time worth the convenience of a car that drives itself?

#3 Bad Weather

Self-driving tech works nicely in fine, sunny weather.  However, put it in heavy rain, snow or ice and it throws a very, very big wobbly.  Humans know – or ought to know – that when it’s raining, you take it nice and slow around the corners, watch out for pools of water that could get you aquaplaning and to keep the speed down.  Now, you’d think that because we have rain-sensing wipers, an autonomous car should be able to recognise that it’s raining and adjust itself accordingly.  Unfortunately, it can’t.  It probably can’t tell the difference between a light shower and a tropical monsoon.  Google hasn’t even put its self-driving cars through tests in heavy rains yet, but they already know that snow is a big problem for autonomous cars because they can’t see the road markings that help them stay in their lanes and get around corners.  As for ice, they have problems detecting this as well.  Even if humans have trouble spotting black ice and frost on the road, we know that on a nippy day when you have to put on a nice woolly jersey, there’s likely to be a bit of ice on that corner there where the trees cast a shadow on the road all day.

#4 Potholes

Apparently, the only holes in the road that a self-driving car can detect are the big ones made by your local road repair crew that have cones around them.  The little blips that are hard on your tyres and suspension aren’t picked up – they are below the surface of the road and they’re not on any of the mapping systems that these cars use.  So an autonomous car won’t dodge potholes.  Ouch.

#5 Newly Altered Road Layouts

Self-driving cars, especially the ones being worked on by Google, rely on really good maps to know (a) where in the world they are and (b) what the road is supposed to look like.  Don’t underestimate the latter bit – this is one way that driverless cars can pick obstacles: some systems scan the area around them and compare this with an image of what the road and its surroundings usually look like (letterboxes, lamp posts, etc.) and reacts accordingly.  However, if they don’t have these detailed maps, then things get a bit fun.  As happened recently in Arizona, if the local supermarket has decided to change the layout of the carpark with its entrances and exits, a driverless car might still think that the best way to get out is via what is now a new set of stairs.  Self-drive vehicles also go to pieces with new subdivisions and places where massive road works and new road layouts are going on: drivers from Christchurch, New Zealand, report that your common or garden GPS throws a wobbly about all the new roads and other bits resulting from the post-earthquake reconstruction.

#6 Shared Areas

Shared areas – places where pedestrians can go on the road at the same time as cars – are touted as being a way forward for cities of the future.  The trouble is that driverless cars are very rule-based, and when it comes to shared areas, there are no set rules.  Each interaction between driver and pedestrian, or between driver and driver, is a new situation.  Nobody’s got official right of way, so we use our social knowledge to ensure that everyone gets where they want to go without anyone getting hurt.  A human driver can see that the pair of pedestrians chatting with coffee in hand staring at each other aren’t about to try crossing the road.  A robot/computer/self-driving car just sees human shapes and can’t see what they’re doing or predict what they’re about to do.  Similarly, there are tons and tons of ways that drivers and pedestrians go through the whole “After you” “No, after you,” exchange.  How we conduct these wordless conversations can be anything from a large Italian-style gesticulation to a simple jerk of the head or a raised eyebrow.  It involves hands, arms, heads, facial expressions and mouthing words on the part of both parties – or just the driver, if he/she spots a mum struggling with a pram and a cantankerous toddler plus a bunch of shopping bags.  Our gestures and our decisions depend on how we’re feeling, our stress levels, the other party involved (the puzzled looking tourist versus the businessperson talking on the phone while striding forward in a rush versus the bunch of teenage girls fooling around).  And in some places, a human driver can recognise a familiar face, stop, wind down the window and have a wee chat.  And all these variables are simply too complex, too individual and too unpredictable to be programmed into a machine.

#7 Pesky Human Beings

As an old road safety campaign stated, humans are unpredictable (and so are some animals, like the idiot dogs who stand there all dopey in the middle of the road staring at you as you brake and yell at them).  A computer system relies on the situations and courses of appropriate action that have been programmed into it.  The trouble is that not everything that people do goes according to the rules – and don’t we just know it!

Here are a few examples of pesky human behaviours and situations – all of which a human driver can recognise and deal with – that would throw a driverless car:

  • A cop on point duty directing traffic because of an accident on the road ahead or similar – a person standing there waving arms is not something a computer system is used to
  • A ball bouncing out into the road: if a human sees this, he/she knows that some child might dash onto the road to retrieve it, but a computer sensor can’t tell a ball from a plastic bag flying loose and won’t react… it certainly won’t start keeping an extra look out for kids.
  • Kids coming out from school: they’re supposed to be sensible on the roads and not do anything silly, but there’s that occasional child who rushes across the road shouting “Mummy!” unexpectedly. Most of us should know that one should slow down and keep an extra lookout at certain times around schools.
  • Hitchhikers: We know what the backpack, the extended thumb and the cardboard sign reading “Gold Coast” means, and we can also make split-second decisions regarding how dodgy the hitchhiker looks, how much space we’ve got in the car, where we’re going and how urgent our journey is, and use all this to decide whether or not to pick up the hitchhiker.
  • Situational ethics: it doesn’t happen very often, but what about when you’ve got a choice between two evils?  This comes down to morals, ethics and the value of life.  Sometimes, for a human, the choice is comparatively easy: in a choice between hitting Granny and hitting the stray dog, most of us would swerve to take the dog out.  Similarly, if you have to negotiate a flock of sheep, the farmer and his/her sheepdog, we know that if things get really bad, you avoid the dog and the farmer at all costs but you can hit the sheep.  At the moment, sensors have trouble getting beyond “Obstacle A” versus “Obstacle B”.  Even if they can tell people from animals, can they go further?  Can they distinguish one human from another?  And if so, how do they decide who not to hit?

 

Braking It Down

I used to be a car salesman. Very early on it became apparent that using jargon wasn’t a smart move, even though the automotive industry is littered with them. There’s ABS, ESP, ESC, GST…wait, scrub that last one. You already know that stands for Goods and Services Tax.

But what about the rest when it comes to braking?

One of the early ones was ABS. This was something that the industry latched onto and proudly trumpeted that “Car XYZ has ABS!” So? The cool thing is that all of these acronyms are actually really simple to understand once you know what they stand for.

ABS is Anti-lock Braking System. Before ABS arrived there were two kinds of braking styles. Most of the time it was hard on the brake pedal and one or two long black smoky trails. Or there was the canny driver that would “feather” the pedal and raise and lower the braking foot to not lock up the brakes. ABS does the same thing. Computer controlled sensors will have the brake pads grip and release the brake discs, slowing forward progress but not stopping the whole wheel from rotating or locking up. This increases the control over the car’s handling the driver has. Early versions had all four wheels controlled by one or two sensors however it’s pretty much standard now that each wheel’s brake is controlled independently.

TC is an easy one too. Traction Control. Back in “the good old days” when manual gearboxs, grunty engines, and a heavy right foot would combine to perform a “burnout”, where the grip or traction of a tyre became less than the intended design, they’d spin and the heat would heat the rubber to a point that the tyre would smoke.
Traction Control stops this from happening, whether it’s intentional or, in the case of climbing a damp/wet tarmac road and turning a sharp corner at slow speed then accelerating, then that driven tyre loses traction, a computer sensor steps in and reduces power momentarily to reduce the lack of traction.

ESP/VSC is Electronic Stability Program or Vehicle Stability Control. It also can be known as DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) or ESC (Electronic Stability Control) In essence, these all stand for the same thing. They combine with Traction Control and yes, our old friend the electronic sensor is invited to play again. The sensors measure wheel rotation speed, the direction of travel of the vehicle, the angle of the vehicle and if a preprogrammed point of “whoops, let’s be careful here” looks like it’s going to be reached, the stability program will apply brakes to the wheel or wheels deemed needing assistance.

This can be done without the driver being aware too. On a wet and greasy road the system may quietly work in the background and help, without drawing attention to itself, the driver not crash. By gently applying braking force the system helps the car stay on a straighter, tighter, driving line.

EBD sounds nice, because the letters rhyme. Electronic Brake Distribution sounds less sexy though even though it’s important. It is an automobile brake technology that automatically varies the amount of force applied to each of a vehicle’s wheels, based on road conditions, speed, loading, and works hand in hand with the ABS.

Finally, there’s BA. Nope, it’s not Bad Attitude although its usage could come from that. Brake Assist means nothing more than applying extra braking pressure if the onboard computers think it’s needed. In the latest cars this tends to be partnered with a forward looking sensor setup and cruise control, stepping in if the carbon based element (that’s you) doesn’t step up.