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Clunkers & cars of tomorrow - People may look like their dogs, but they IDENTIFY with their cars (especially their old ones) and have a hard time saying goodbye to them, even when the government institutes something like the Cash for Clunkers program. And maybe your NEXT car should go to driving school (instead of you).

With dogs it's friendship, but with cars, it's anthropomorphism: the tendency to ascribe human attributes to an inanimate object. PhysOrg.com quotes psychologist Norbert Schwarz as saying, "Everyone knows someone with a beat-up old car that they just can't bear to get rid of, even as the car becomes unreliable and begins to act with 'a mind of its own.'"

Psychologist Jesse Chandler agrees. PhysOrg quotes him as saying, "Although most people know that cars and other objects like computers are inanimate, at times they treat them as if they were alive. Most of us at some point have argued or pled with a computer, felt attached to a favorite sweater or expressed love for a car. Much as people are reluctant to replace friends as they become old and cranky, they are also reluctant to replace 'living' products that no longer work properly."

Chandler found that, "Just as people prefer other people who are interpersonally warm over people who are interpersonally cold, [study] participants were also less willing to replace a 'warm' car than a 'cold' car when they had thought about the car's personality. Hence, owners of a blue car were less willing to replace it when its color was named 'summer sky' rather than 'blizzard blue.'"

Car manufacturers surely know this, which is why so many cars seem to have distinct personalities that make you want to protect them and hope that large, menacing cars get off the road and leave your poor, beat-up compact in peace.

Meanwhile, car designers have long wanted to take the human error factor out of driving, and the next generation of cars may be smart enough to learn how you drive and warn you when you're not driving safely. Cars can already remember your seat and steering wheel adjustments but now, with state-of-the-art sensors, image processors, and learning algorithms, a smart car could be built that would track your every move, match those actions with what it "sees" down the road, and learns how its driver normally handles situations such as upcoming curves or other vehicles ahead.

Science Daily quotes researcher Florentin Worgotter as saying, "The idea was that cars should be able to learn from the driver to be capable of driving autonomously." Since cars aren't legally allowed to drive themselves yet, he settled for a warning system that alerts the driver when he or she isn't responding to an upcoming situation as expected.

Worgotter says, "What we wanted was a system that learns to drive during the day by correlating what it sees with the actions a driver takes. Then at night the system could say, 'Slow down, a curve is coming up!' (a curve the human didn't see). Now we have a prototype that does this."

To learn more, click here and here.

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Art credit: Dreamstime.com

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