Wednesday, January 11, 2017

New gadgets move us closer to a world of ‘RoboTruckers’

Gadgets and other technological devices can be fun, useful and make our lives easier.

Having access to GPS can save time and reduce stress when driving for the first time in an unfamiliar area. Other smartphone applications can allow truck drivers to stay better connected to family and friends during another lonely night parked at a truck stop.

But where do you draw the line to decide whether or not a gadget is helpful or a hindrance? When do we reach the point that there are too many contraptions in the truck, and when do those gadgets begin to deter a responsible and experienced truck driver from doing his or her job in a safe manner?

It seems to me that we may very well have reached that point.

Mercedes recently announced it’s working on a vest for professional drivers that would monitor their heart rate and other vital signs. The idea is that the vest would know if the driver was on the brink of a heart attack and would stop the truck automatically.

Obviously, there are a ton of questions here. Do we really trust the vest to be that accurate? What if a driver has an irregular heart beat but isn’t in immediate danger? What if the truck is in the middle of a steep climb in the mountains? What if the truck is going through a busy intersection?

And who knows? Maybe they will make this device foolproof. Maybe they can find an answer to all those questions and find a way to help a driver in need.

But the problem is that the contraptions don’t end there.

This week’s 2017 Consumer Electronics Show featured a pair of jeans from Spinali Designs that will use GPS to send a vibration on either your right or left hip to let you know which direction you should go.

Last year, Land Line Editor-at-Large John Bendel wrote about an Australian tech company that developed a contraption intended to keep drivers alert. The device uses a driver-facing camera to monitor a driver’s eyes. If the driver’s eyelids close or stop looking at the road, the camera sends an alert to a rumble box under the seat that, for all intents and purposes, “gooses” the driver to get his or her attention.

In addition to the heart attack vest, Mercedes is working on seat that would massage a driver’s back to stimulate blood flow and relieve fatigue.

But, I say, why stop there? Why can’t we produce boots for the right foot that “shock” the driver if he or she applies too much or too little pressure on the gas pedal? And how about some gloves that create a small “burn” if the driver’s hands don’t remain in the correct position on the steering wheel? While we’re at it, can we get a helmet that tracks a driver’s thoughts, and produces a “stinging” sensation if he or she begins thinking about anything other than driving?

I can see it now. The “RoboCop” movie franchise can easily transition to a reality television series called “RoboTrucker.”

In all seriousness, there may be some drivers out there who would love to get their hands on some of these devices. And, if so, I say go for it.

But who else thinks we’re gradually moving toward a world of “RoboTruckers”?