“Well, let’s see how it responds to my touch,” James Bond says to “Q” in the movie “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997). Then, drawing his finger across the touchpad of a phone, Bond sends a weapon-festooned BMW careening about without mishap.
Life imitates art. This veddy British film appears to have exerted a certain influence over a new generation of British boffins, who have pulled off the same trick with an app, a smart phone, and a Range Rover. It’s all shown in this recent episode of “Fully Charged,” an online transportation show hosted by actor and tech-enthusiast Robert Llewellyn:
It’s no mere parlor trick. Even this experiment in remote driving depended on an element of computer assistance, which cars are getting in ever-increasing abundance. At first the computer helps the driver with routine things, like parking; next the driver helps the computer with harder things, like nosing into crosstraffic; and finally the computer takes over entirely.
Another instance of what might be called driving by remote control is when a person steers with small movements of his head and mouth. That’s the idea behind the semi-autonomous motorcar, or SAM, named for the man who drives it, Sam Schmidt—a paralyzed former Indycar racer. The project is managed by Arrow, the Colorado electronics company.
True, Schmidt isn’t remote—he sits right behind the wheel of the car, a modified Corvette. But he controls it with the indirect panache of Bond himself. He steers by looking in the direction he wants to go, accelerates by puffing on a straw, and brakes by sipping on that same straw: