Nissan's NSC-2015, on display at the CEATEC 2012 conference in Japan, can find its own parking spot and return to pick you up after being summoned via mobile app. The car uses sensors and a camera to keep track of its location, and gives an owner a 360-degree camera view via an LTE connection of the area around the car, allowing him or her to remotely trigger the car's alarm in case of suspicious activity. Nissan will begin selling the car in 2015.
The frequent fault associated with automating things is that many people forget how to do them, or just get way out of practice. That could lead to disater when they forget how to drive, since the most likely time that a human would need to take over would be for some exception that the system was unable to deal with. That would be a real problem.
Another portion of this blog has been discussing the start-stop button for cars. One button for both start and stop has got to be one of the very stupidest things ever released to the public. No apology offered, it is just stupid to have one control with two opposite functions. Even more, to have that control just sending a request to a computer is very poor judgement indeed. If you examine the industrial controls industry you will see that for many years the emergency stop function has been in hardware, bypassing the computer (PLC). That was not just a "suggested practice", it was a non-negotiable rule, both by PLC makers and by the industry management people, the safety people, and even the unions. They all had a mandate that the emergency stop function not only be a single function button, but also that it be independant of any computer type of controls.
If the controls in your robotic car fail, you certainly don't want to be in the situation where your only option is to say "please stop". Computers often don't hear very well.
During my junior and senior years at the university I was a commuting student and lived off-campus. My wife and I had a small apartment about 10 miles from the parking lot that serviced most of the engineering buildings. (I'll just bet you know what's coming next.) There were those mornings, when leaving late, I just managed to slide into the last parking space, jump out of the car, and literally run to class. I never looked back to notice where I had parked. That bit of trivia could wait. Four hours later, it was walk and search. I really could have used Nissan's robocar back then. I drove a third-hand Ford Falcon, grey in color. In other words--a generic car very suitable for my commute but somewhat nondescript. From that experience, I can definitely see some benefit from a vehicle such as this but wonder if their time is near or far. Let's hope the safety aspects are well thought and remain operational during the life of the car.
Thanks for sharing that story, Bob. It shows the other side of the coin--not only can the car find a spot for you, but it also can help you find IT (or it finds YOU) if you've forgotten where you've parked. I am among those type of absentminded people who sometimes actually forgets this trivial detail as well. :) If the programming is right and the car is intelligent enough, I, too, can see its usefulness in limited situations, as long as all types of safety precautions are taken and the car only uses appropriate spots. I am not sure I am comfortable with the idea of driverless cars going all over the roads, but in limited and specific use cases, I am all for it.