Have you ever had an idea so comprehensively and impressively terrible that you can’t even believe it was generated by your brain, instead of some other organ not known for making humans smart? I have. Lots of times. Like right now, with this idiotic idea I had for autonomous cars.
I was in my study, holding my valet’s head in a large vat of antifreeze and Cap’n Crunch I keep around for tax purposes, reflecting on the coming future of fully autonomous cars. As my valet writhed and kicked, reminding me I better let him up for air or suffer another tedious afternoon of inconvenience at the courthouse, it occurred to me that there will likely always be a demand for cars that cater to some sort of ‘enthusiast’ market, even in an era when people who actually know how to drive become more and more rare.
I released my valet and sent him to his slumber-pod as I allowed myself to ride this train of thought a bit further. In an autonomous car future, I still imagine there will always be a niche for people who want to drive their own cars: vintage cars that pre-date autonomy, and hopefully even some new cars built to satisfy this driving-enthusiast niche.
But I also think that there will be a number of enthusiast-lite car buyers, people who enjoy the trappings and general style of non-autonomous motoring, but who may never have had a real opportunity to drive manually, and simply do not know how to drive.
So, here’s where it gets weird: I can imagine autonomous cars that are designed for performance, and have a more sporting look, even though actual driving feel and handling and driving satisfaction mean a lot less when everyone is just a passenger.
And, even further, I can imagine an autonomous car that’s targeted at the human-driving fetishist (even if they have no idea how to actually drive), and, while autonomous, nevertheless retains one crucial element of human-enthusiast driving, which brings us to my incredibly bad idea:
An autonomous car with a manual transmission.
Just take a moment and let the pure inanity of this idea sink in. It’s an idea so deeply stupid that I can’t seem to get it out of my head. This would be basically the exact inverse of a normal car with an automatic transmission: in such a car, you have to do everything but shift.
In an autonomous car with a manual gearbox, it’s the opposite – the only thing you do is shift.
I’m imagining this would be something targeted at posers who are taken with the idea of driving on your own, but can’t really be bothered to fully learn how to do it. Instead, they decide to eat only the dessert, and learn the basics of the most iconic part of old-school driving: using a clutch and shifting gears.
Such a car would have no steering wheel, accelerator or brake: the computers would handle all that, just like in any other autonomous car. But the manual-autonomous cars would have a standard clutch pedal and gearshift, say five or six speeds, and as the car drove you around, you’d have to clutch and shift.
Chances are the car’s drivetrain would be electric, and the whole thing would be simulated with computers adjusting the electric motor’s output and torque based on what gear was selected. It could easily be all a fake, with the pedal and shifter sending their information wirelessly, and even easily movable around the car so everyone can have a go.
Of course, you could go all out and have an internal-combustion drivetrain with a real manual gearbox in your high-end, enthusiasts’ autonomous-manual car. There’s no reason why you couldn’t, other than, of course, the fundamental idiocy of the idea.
Just remember, you’d have to shift. If you didn’t the car would act like any manual transmission car: if you kept it in first, you wouldn’t be able to go past 20 MPH and the thing would be revving (or fake revving) really high and loud. You couldn’t start in fourth because you’d be lugging everything too much.
In my terrible idea, if you have a manual-autonomous car, you absolutely have to shift it. Because if you can just turn it off, it’s just a silly affectation you’ll only use once! This way, it’s a silly affectation that you have to use, all the time, forever.
Holy shit is this a stupid idea. I can just imagine the miserable future bastards who would buy this, in hopes of impressing people about how much they almost know about driving a car that they have no real idea how to drive.
Oh, you could use this to burn rubber, too! You’d tell the car to take off in some direction, maximum throttle, and then you’d hold the clutch down and pop it, forcing your rational, autonomous robo-car to lay some rubber.
There you go. You’ve encountered it: the worst idea for the future of autonomous cars. An autonomous car you have to shift, for no really good reason.
Oh, hold on: I just had another terrible idea. An autonomous car with a manual choke. Maybe that could be an option on the autonomous-manual shift cars, for the Total Idiot Performance Package. It includes a shaker hood for your electric motor, too.
I’m gonna go lie down.