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April 10, 2016 / Michael Yaroshefsky

Dr. Miklos Kiss or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Autonomous Driving (Part 1)

Cruising at a comfortably brisk speed on I-90 Westbound, just outside of Worcester, MA, I gaze over the steering wheel to find a swelling sea of red taillights coming to a complete, abrupt stop ahead.  *Expletive!*

But this time is different.  Instead of “brake and groan,” I “clench and pray.”  But I’m not praying to my usual deity this time.  I’m praying to some engineer in Bavaria, on whose competence I’m trusting the fancy front fascia of my new Mythos Black Audi A6.  Dr. Miklos Kiss, Audi’s head of predevelopment for driver assistance systems, is a good choice.

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Driving is becoming more like commercial piloting: setting the computer and watching the gauges to make sure everything’s running OK.

I’ve been trained all my life that in a situation like this, I’m supposed to turn a potentially unsafe situation into a safe one.  Right foot, left pedal, brake!   It takes an incredible amount of willpower to deny this nearly-primal urge and hand my safety over to the Machine.  Regardless, my right foot hovers nervously over the brake pedal.

While the gap is closing, the car keeps galloping at full speed.  They wouldn’t release this feature if it didn’t work 99.999999% of the time, right?  I catch a judgmental glimpse from my fiance in the right seat, so I redirect my thoughts to my mouth so she knows why I’m not doing anything about the impending situation ahead: “C’mon, Audi!” I repeat twice.  Her lips are silent, but her eyes tell me she’s not amused.

Finally, I hear some faint clicking down by the pedals, and the speedometer needle starts falling.  I feel the engine let up, and the brakes start to engage.   Slowly at first.  60-55-50. Then somewhat panicked for my personal tastes.  40-25-10.   Lisa and I hold our breath as the rear bumper in front of us approaches.  5-3-1-0.  Phew!

Hair-raising nerves give way to a flush of relief, and finally a blissful realization: technology just innovated away my least favorite part of driving.

This is Part 1 of a 5-Part Series.