Autonomously yours, said Mercedes Benz at the recently concluded SxSW in Austin, Texas

An all-electric, fully automated future is on the brink of becoming the real deal

We’ve grown up imagining cars that talk, fly and do much more…

Cars we can have conversations with (for now we have Alexa to serve the purpose), but we’re not too far from the future we’d imagined as children – dramatic changes are underway – cars that have judgement making skills, drive themselves and come with a bit of empathy are in prototype stage and not before long, will be seen on the roads too.

Humanising driving technology was the key discussion point at the South by Southwest convergence in Austin this year. The Me Convention – a joint initiative by SXSW and Mercedes Benz on technology and future – was all about taking cars beyond the realm of just the basic cruise control, making them capable of driving themselves, taking automation on a whole new level, at the same time maintaining a human-centric approach towards it all. That’s some serious food for thought if we were to imagine a future filled with technology that’s racing alongside humanity and in some cases, even ahead of it.

Now that’s a tough one, given the fact that teaching empathy to a fellow human is a hard job to begin with, programming machines to the extent of being predictive and empathic – some would agree that our grandmas are the greatest seers of all times, since they’re in predictive mode at almost all times – is mean feat. But hey fellow humans, cars are well on their way to give Professor Trelawney and your grandma some serious competition. Enlightened by exciting advancements in autonomous technology, we’ve come back from the wild, wild south west with a glimpse into the future…

Hands off the wheels

One may not need to give full attention to a self-driving car, but communication, like in any other relationship, is key. A car that is well communicated to, communicates well in return… get it? It’s easy peasy – with a fully autonomous futuristic car that knows its job and can be communicated to from the outside as well as the inside, you can literally go through tapestry brochures for your house remodelling while sitting in the car, without having to take charge of the wheel. The car of the future also communicates its autonomous status to pedestrians. This isn’t talk from a galactic empire. That’s the length and breadth of the astronomic aim of Mercedes Benz – rolling into the future, feature by feature – creating an intelligent future we once only imagined and to reach full autonomy in the mobility sector, as early as 2019 for the production version.

Putting humans at the centre, not technology

Autonomity isn’t everything. The brainy humans responsible for making machines intelligent should be at the centre of it, not the machines. Technology has a great potential to connect us all on many other levels as well. In the future, there will be many opportunities for machines to guide us in a more symbiotic manner, and the interactions will seem effortless with other human beings and machines alike. But that can only be achieved with emerging ideas that will shape our future powerfully and positively. Humans have this great ability to adapt to their environment. Try driving through the slums of Dharavi and you’ll know what we mean. An autonomous vehicle must be capable of adapting to human needs and evoking trust, only then the human inside will feel secure interacting with it. It’s a simple fact – a car with a limited agency has no room in the autonomous future.