Maybe I'm just getting old, but I don't get the concept of the sports utility vehicle. How can a cross between a pick-up truck and a station wagon be the coolest thing on wheels for the smart set? Among their myriad features, SUVs are hard to park, expensive to insure, and gas guzzlers.
In San Francisco, a city of narrow streets and few parking places, SUVs have become as common as pigeons, and nearly as much of a nuisance. Because of their size, they take up a disproportionate amount of precious parking space. Each morning you can find dozens of them perched on sidewalks because there were no spaces large enough the night before. Now you'd think that the rationale for people to buy SUVs would be to go skiing in the Sierras. But no, many owners don't want to besmirch their vehicles with mud and snow.Now I'm not trying to annoy all of you SUV drivers out there. I certainly recognize the value of four-wheel drive for people living in snowy climes. And I like the way you can sit high enough to see over traffic, such as other SUVs. My beefs are twofold. First is the disparity between the large SUVs and small compacts. I'd like to feel that if I were driving a Geo Metro, I'd have a shot at surviving a collision with another vehicle.
My other beef is about the fuel economy and emissions that characterize these vehicles. That problem appears to be going away — eventually — thanks to recently passed legislation. From then on it's up to the auto industry to squeeze out all the gas mileage and extra weight.
If we were to eliminate one or the other, small fuel-efficient vehicles don't seem the ones to put on the chopping block. I guess mine is a minority viewpoint. SUVs aren't disappearing from the streets and highways of America. And to make matters worse, I'm even seeing more Hummers on the streets of San Francisco. Figure that one out. Fortunately we have the technology to help make other (smaller) vehicles safer to the occupants when SUVs try to occupy the same space at the same time.
We're all aware of the litany of virtues that embedded intelligence can add to products: features, reliability, reduced power consumption, and added safety. Those virtues are being exploited more and more by the auto industry. High-end automobiles now boast more than 60 processors. The auto industry is beginning to depend on embedded systems, as was clear by the number of automotive electronics engineers in attendance at last month's embedded systems conference in Chicago. The use of embedded systems has made automobiles safer and better performing than before CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards were put into place in the 1970s.Since SUVs are not going away, and their drawbacks (other than size) can only be mitigated through technology, we can take comfort in one additional virtue that embedded systems offer. In a small way they can help save us from ourselves.