* This post was originally published on ClintonFitch.com.
I am officially a commuter. I think it may be somewhere in the Silicon Valley bylines that I must then acquire a commuter car.
We went with the Chevy Volt – a zippy little plug-in hybrid that transitions to gas mode if I drive too far, while still allowing me to go months between fill-ups. (The price point is also significantly less than the sexier looking Tesla.)
The Volt operates as a pure battery electric vehicle until its plug-in battery capacity drops to a predetermined threshold from full charge. From there the internal combustion engine powers an electric generator to extend the vehicle’s range via traditional fuel as needed. When the engine is running it may be periodically mechanically linked (by a clutch) to a planetary gear set, and hence the output drive axle, to improve energy efficiency.
Human controlled success in driving efficiencies is indicated by a green bouncing ball on the dashboard. Accelerate or break to fast and the ball sinks to an angry yellow dot.
My vehicular history took me from an 11-year-old Honda that didn’t bother with bells and whistles such as power doors, windows or steering. I then graduated to the MomMobile – an SUV that had a fancy computer chip in the key that allowed for remote locking and unlocking. One still needed to insert the key physically into the ignition.
And then I met my Volt. All selections derive from the internal computer. (I do not know the operating system ultimately behind it.)
Backup camera that beeps at me when I get too close to a sensor. On my first go-round with the parking lot I just about leaped out of the car trying to figure out what that first alarm was. “What is the car trying to tell me?!” (Just a warning, you’re about to drive into that basketball pole.)
The entire center console is a touch screen. PUSH ALL THE BUTTONS.
Even the climate control system is smart. Rather than the all to familiar blue square and red circle signifying the certainty of a blast of respectively frigid or lobster-steaming air, drivers are expected to program a desired temperature and allow the car to conform to your wishes.
Always concerned with efficiency, the car will begin to warm you by heating your seat. I know a great deal of people who swear by seat warmers. Personally, I was a little concerned I had become the cooked-alove lobster in my fancy new AI car…
By far the biggest change is the lack of ignition.
The key (I’m sorry, the remote) stays in your purse or pocket. You push the power button. No joke, the car has fully completed its transition to computer.
Just push a button on the door handle if the remote is within 3 feet. Get out and simply walk away. I had Mission Impossible visions – no key pushing, just confidently striding away as the car locked itself in submission to my techie awesomeness.
How could that ever go wrong?
“Don’t worry,” everyone reassured me. “It’s a smart car.” (Only not so smooshed looking as those branded with that name.) See – if your keys are still in the car, it won’t lock. The brilliant technology keeps you from locking your keys in the car.
On Friday I picked up Search and Destroy from preschool. I strutted up to the newly dubbed Voltron the Zippy, clicked the trunk button and stood back to watch it open itself for me.
I HAVE THE POWER!
I tossed the boys backpacks and all the other bags and gear I’d sherpa’d across the parking lot and told Destroy to get in the car.
He did not.
And while he was not getting in the car, I shut the trunk.
Voltron flashed his lights at me and went silent.
I pulled at the trunk.
I ran around and clicked the button on all the doors.
Voltron had securely shut all our possessions in the vehicle. See, the car won’t lock if you leave your keys in it. But neither will it unlock if your keys find themselves ensconced in the once open but now shut and otherwise locked vehicle.
I called TechDad. (Because despite your personal opinion on the fruited brand of my phone, that puppy does not leave my side. Ever.)
“Use OnStar,” he reminded me.
“But OnStar is in the car. I am outside the car,” I helpfully pointed out.
“Use the app,” he sighed.
This was excellent advice. So 45 minutes later, TechDad arrived to unlock our car. I got in and pushed the OnStar button to setup the account.
That’s why you may have seen me talking to my techno-blinged-out car. The tinfoil hat was simply a stylistic statement because I still don’t trust the robot.