Monday, April 13, 2009


Should your car door refuse to open?

Here’s an interesting new idea: “intelligent” car doors. Or, at least, cautious ones:

Accidents caused by car doors being opened into the path of oncoming vehicles or cyclists are common in cities. But these incidents could become a thing of the past, if doors that react to potential impacts catch on.


However, if sensors detect a nearby obstacle at the same time as an accelerometer detects an attempt to open the door, the door’s swing is restricted by a linear motor attached to the bar.

To pass on more information to the user, the amount of door resistance is in proportion to the proximity of an object — for example, you might swing a door halfway open without problems before it gets stiffer as it nears a lamp post.

It’s an interesting concept, and I can see the real value in it. I just have two concerns.

One is whether it can detect an approaching vehicle in time to prevent the door’s being opened in front of it when the vehicle is going at, say, 30 or 35 miles per hour. That’s a likely scenario on many of the streets I drive along that have parallel parking at the curb. Even moreso, can it detect a small vehicle, such as a bicycle, at 30 MPH (not unreasonable if the road is downhill)?

I wonder whether people might come to rely on such a feature, and not be as careful to look before opening, depending upon the smart door to watch out for trouble.

The second concern is one of personal safety. Will this protect the door at the expense of the occupant? I can foresee the door’s deciding not to open because of an obstacle, at a time when the driver is trying to open it quickly to get out in an emergency situation. Suppose the car is afire, or an attacker has hidden in the back seat... imagine some situation where delaying you a few seconds while you fight with the “smart” door can be very costly indeed.

The problem with this sort of artificial intelligence is exactly that it’s artificial. It deals only with aspects that are part of its model. Human intelligence can quickly analyze unexpected situations and decide that the danger of staying in the car outweighs the issue of crashing the door into the garbage can you parked too close to. Computer “intelligence” can’t yet deal with that sort of decision.


Maggie said...

Where is Isaac Asimov when we need the three laws of intelligent car doors??

The Ridger, FCD said...

Remember when they weren't going to let the car start if the seat belt wasn't fastened?

Barry Leiba said...

Yes... same kind of thing.