With the self-driving car on its way, our days as drivers are numbered. Eventually, some accursed batch of engineers in a shadowy automotive tech center will put all the pieces in place and birth the first truly autonomous vehicle. Assuming Skynet doesn't become self-aware shortly after and kill us all, we will fully cede our driving responsibilities to billions of lines of code. If that sounds terrible, it's because it will be.
Almost every automaker is developing autonomous technology, like lemmings coming up with new and more creative ways to kill themselves. That now includes Porsche, a brand synonymous with driving pleasure and an unwillingness to change that borders on the fanatical.
Yes, a company that's spent more than eight decades arguing (successfully) that the ass-end of a car is a pretty good place to put the engine has developed its own take on autonomy, and much like a rear-engine layout, it works well while not making a lot of sense.
Feeling out the curves
A lot of semi-autonomous systems, like Volvo Pilot Assist or Mercedes-Benz's active safety suite, work best in boring suburban sprawls and straight, rural expanses, but Porsche's InnoDrive is for the bends.
InnoDrive uses GPS data to "look" at the angle, slope, and height of the road ahead. Then, it combines that data with information from the vehicle's multitude of sensors, considers the speed limit, and determines an appropriate cornering speed. InnoDrive won't drive through the turn, though. It'll slow the car down for a turn, and the driver does the steering at all times.
“It's not a system for cornering, it's a system for speed, but it uses all the information to adjust the vehicle to the perfect speed for the road the customer is on,” Dr. Gernot Döllner told Motor Authority. Aside from nudges from the over-sensitive active lane control system, there's no real assisted steering effort. In fact, if you take your hands off the steering wheel, the system warns you to take control again.
In that way, it's less like Pilot Assist or Tesla's AutoPilot and more like a dynamic version of adaptive cruise control, right down to the (finicky and unintuitive) control stalk it shares with the ACC. InnoDrive locks in a speed—it defaults to the speed limit and can adjust automagically to higher or lower limits, or the driver can override and set a maximum speed—slows for a curve, will downshift if necessary, and then accelerates back up to the limit. Everything is well within a driver's comfort level.
And my comfort level was quite low. I like semi-autonomous systems in some situations—they reduce the strain of driving, especially over long distances or in tedious traffic. But asking the car to handle a boring, familiar trudge down Interstate 75 is quite a bit different than asking it to attack a German B-road I'm experiencing for the first time. My foot hovered constantly over the brake pedal, eager to step in and yank the carbon-ceramic reins of the Panamera Turbo I was “driving.” But I never needed to.