"Computers are killing the automotive hobby!" Car geeks say this with defeatist disdain; tech nerds utter it with futurist superiority. Thing is, they're both wrong. Virtual reality and wearable tech could very well save hobbyist mechanics from becoming the 21st century's horseshoe installers. Here's how.
Modern cars have gotten enormously complex. Increasingly stringent emissions and fuel-efficiency regulations, plus the market demand for faster, more powerful, and more luxurious cars, has bred a new strand of super-vehicles laden with more technology than an Apollo-era spaceship. A time-traveling 1960s NASA engineer would be utterly lost under the hood of today's run-of-the-mill Toyota Prius.
Pity the backyard mechanic. Chained to a dying concept of transportation, reaching for antiquated wrenches and pliers in a world increasingly built from semiconductors and robotically-applied solder. Right?
I ain't buying it. I think we're poised for a gearhead revolution. And I think it'll be powered by virtual reality and, yes, Google Glass.
Think about it: instead of paging through a dense, nearly inscrutable service manual written for trained professionals, imagine pointing your smartphone, tablet, or face-computer's camera at the jumble of technology under your hood, and seeing a virtual reality overlay with step-by-step repair instructions. Such a system could remove the biggest hurdle that stops car owners from getting their hands dirty—the fear of irreversibly messing something up.
First generation experimental car maintenance apps are already out there. Audi's got a smartphone app that pops an explanation over your photo of a puzzling gadget or gauge reading. And BMW wants to equip its mechanics with virtual reality readouts.
Gearhead traditionalists flock to classic cars for their mechanical simplicity. Technology, they maintain, only makes things needlessly complex. But the dream of futuristic electronics is to make our lives easier, not harder. Sometimes, we just have to figure out how to do that.
As a car guy and a tech nerd, I'd love to have a Tony Stark-style virtual shop manual that gives me the info I need during every step of a repair. For people who grew up in a digital world, this kind of computerised assistant would probably feel natural, a bridge between the virtual and visceral worlds.
Hell, the garage is about the only place where I'd willingly wear Google Glass.
Image: Shutterstock / X-RAY pictures