A symbiosis of surveillance

camera obscura

“Morals reformed—health preserved—industry invigorated—instruction diffused—public burthens lightened—Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock—all by a simple idea in Architecture!” —Jeremy Bentham

“Could this spell the end for speeding tickets?” asks Ford Motor Company’s UK arm as it introduces Intelligent Speed Limiter, an automotive system that prevents drivers from speeding:

The system monitors road signs with a camera mounted on the windscreen, and slows the vehicle as required. As the speed limit rises, the system allows the driver to accelerate up to the set speed — providing it does not exceed the new limit.

“Drivers are not always conscious of speeding and sometimes only becoming aware they were going too fast [sic] when they receive a fine in the mail or are pulled over by law enforcement,” said Stefan Kappes, active safety supervisor, Ford of Europe. “Intelligent Speed Limiter can remove one of the stresses of driving, helping ensure customers remain within the legal speed limit.”

The Register’s Simon Rockman fills in the technical details:

The Intelligent Speed Limiter combines current Ford technologies: the Adjustable Speed Limiter and Traffic Sign Recognition … At speeds of between 20mph and 120mph the system smoothly decelerates by restricting the fuel supplied to the engine, rather than applying the brakes. Should travelling downhill cause the vehicle to exceed the legislated speed an alarm is sounded. The limiter also communicates with the on-board navigation system to help accurately maintain the appropriate maximum speed when distances between speed limit signs are greater, for example on long country roads.

Britain has, of course, been a leader in the automated enforcement of traffic laws, having installed radar-equipped cameras pretty much everywhere. Intelligent Speed Limiter closes the loop between enforcing the law and obeying the law. One camera keeps tabs on you; another makes sure you stick to the straight and narrow. And that means you can relax, like a baby in a Snugli.

As Rockman explains, “the Ford tech is fighting automatic regulation with automatic adherence.” But “fighting” doesn’t seem like quite the right verb. It’s more of a warm, seamless, symbiotic embrace between surveillance and response, with the stress-inducing vagaries of personal choice removed from the equation. One can imagine all sorts of applications of such closed-loop enforcement systems as the internet of things becomes universal.

Photo: Jon Lewis.