No Snobots for Me (Dan Gould)
Published on Wednesday, December 22, 2010 in News & Updates, President's Message, Snowmobile Tech
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I admit it. I’m an obsessive fan of technology. Cars, snowmobiles, computers, handheld devices, medical breakthroughs… the scope of technological advances are absolutely stunning. However, there are always negative aspects of new technologies, be it the discovery of fire or micro-robots that will be used in medical procedures to clear blocked arteries. For instance, the breakthroughs in snowmobile engine controls are incredible. Emission reductions, running quality, fuel mileage, service life and overall performance has increased beyond imagination in just a few years. What’s the downside? Cost. Most sleds now hover around the $10,000 mark, some approach the price of a new car. I’ll be the first to argue that you are getting a superior machine that will last longer, is environmentally responsible, and will be cheaper to operate in the long-run. That doesn’t diminish the fact that the entry price may be beyond those who could buy a ticket five years ago.

Of all the technological pros & cons, I’m most put off by those breakthroughs that reduce the mental capacity of our species. Yea, I’m gonna complain about bad drivers. The new buzzword in the automotive world is autonomous cars. Just saying it makes me want to vomit. We already have cars that warn (bad) drivers when they are too close to another vehicle or drift out of their lane. Can’t park? Don’t worry, new cars will do that for you, too. Ford is ready to launch Curve Control that will assist a motorist entering a curve too quickly. Hmmm, I thought that’s what guardrails were for. Based on yaw, speed, and driver input sensors, the software slows a speeding vehicle in hope of getting a coma-induced driver around an off-ramp safely.

Red flag: This does not solve the problem, it only makes it worse. The software that actually needs updating is located between the ears. Unfortunately, the automotive world and many crappy drivers are looking forward to vehicles that drive themselves; no skills needed (which seems to be the case now.) I enjoy piloting my vehicles and don’t want to see that freedom disappear. I get wound up over this at times: the dumbing-down of drivers by technology.

That’s one of the reasons I love snowmobiling so much. It’s just you and the machine. A raw format involving millions of sensory inputs to the vestibular nerve. Decisions are made on the fly; it challenges your vision, reflexes and thought process. Bad drivers interfering with your experience are few and far between, especially when compared to paved roads. Trail riding is best described as a Zen-like experience. It thrills and relaxes all at once.

As hard-charging as technology is, I don’t believe that there will ever be a compulsion for the manufacturers to build autonomous sleds. Honestly, what would be the point? Snowmobilers share a physical and mental experience that is closer to skiing, skateboarding or bicycling than driving a car. I believe we will always be the pilot of our sleds, but I’m truly worried about the future of our automotive freedoms.

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