Muscle cars are becoming more muscular. Autonomous cars keep getting more autonomous. Will the technologies merge and, if they do, what will be the result?
Not to be left in the dust of the ’14 Ford Shelby GT500 (662 hp) or ’15 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (650 hp) is the 707-hp ’15 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat going on sale in the third quarter. Each is inching toward high-performance territory occupied by exotic marques such as Ferrari, McLaren and Lamborghini, and at a fraction of the cost.
(Two loaded copies of each American weapon can be had for roughly the price of one base Lamborghini Aventador L-400, which keeps up with this pack at 700 hp.)
Meanwhile, Jaguar Land Rover announces it is developing technology called Smart Assistant, the benign-sounding label for what it calls the key to ‟a truly intelligent self-learning vehicle.”
Here’s a sampling of Smart Assistant’s capabilities from a JLR press release:
“Our new learning algorithm means information learned about you will deliver a completely personalized driving experience and enhance driving pleasure…the car will also review your schedule for the day and…predict your next destination based on your schedule…
“If you usually make a phone call at a certain time or on a particular journey, the car will predict this and will offer to make the call. If you are going to be late for your next appointment, the car will offer to email or call ahead…the self-learning car will also know if you are going to the gym, and will have learnt that you prefer a certain temperature on the way there to warm up, and a different temperature to cool down on your way home.”
Note Smart Assistant doesn’t drive the car – yet. But JLR R&D Director Wolfgang Epple says its ability to personalize the driving experience “is important because in the future customers will still want an emotional connection and a thrilling drive – with the ability to drive autonomously when required.’
These manifestations of automotive brains and brawn may converge by, let’s say, 2020 and produce the HALcat, its name hybridized from “Hellcat” and HAL, the truly intelligent self-learning but villainous computer in Stanley Kubrick’s epic 1968 film, ‟2001: A Space Odyssey.”
If HAL can plot to take control of a rocket ship zipping a gazillion miles per hour through space, surely Smart Assistant can take over for a late-for-his-appointment driver and handle an earthbound Dodge Challenger and its 6.2L supercharged Hemi V-8 that’s good for at least 200 mph (320 km/h) and a 10.8-second quarter-mile.
JLR demonstrates Smart Assistant’s smarts in a video showing a Brit named Chris Morgan driving a standard-issue Range Rover while receiving a steady stream of customized messages on its head-up display: ‟Leave now to arrive at your meeting on time”; ‟Would you like to call Faye Morgan now? ”
Tweak Smart Assistant’s algorithms in the HALcat and it might ask, ‟Blow doors off Z06 in next lane?” or ‟Raise cabin temperature prior to pizza pick-up?” in addition to ‟Would you like to call Faye Morgan now?”
The HALcat easily could outrun not only a Range Rover with an angry husband at the wheel but also the current crop of experimental autonomous cars, which include an Audi TT, Lexus RX 450H, Toyota Prius, Nissan Leaf, Volkswagen Passat and the Google curiosity that would look at home in a ‟Dilbert” comic strip.
A potential, if fictional, rival on the track and in cyberspace: KITT, the ’82 Pontiac Trans Am featured in the ‟Knight Rider” TV series. Granted, its 5.0L LU5 V-8 made a paltry 165 hp, but KITT was endowed with artificial intelligence beyond anything JLR has cooked up thus far. (HAL, meet Hasselhoff.)
It wouldn’t be surprising if this scenario did not play out. The autonomous car seems like a good fit on crowded highways or placid subdivision streets or wherever ‟driving” really means being driven. And it’s hard to imagine a muscle car where any numbers in an algorithm count for more than, say, 707.